Official give no break on tests for immigrant-heavy schools
Charlotte Observer
Oct. 23, 2005

by Franco Ordonez

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings wants the government to resist giving schools with high immigrant student populations breaks from federal testing requirements.

Following a speech Saturday at Davidson College, Spellings responded to questions about requests for greater flexibility from federal testing requirements if a school district has a high limited-English speaking population.

Spellings said she's working on minor adjustments to the requirements but noted the purpose for raising the bar each year is so that educators and students are forced to find ways to meet higher goals.

"We have to crack the code on how we're going to transition and educate people whose first language is not English," she said. "It's not, `Let's figure out a way to wiggle out of addressing it.' "

Spellings, whose daughter is a freshman at the liberal arts school, is
in Charlotte for Davidson College's Family Weekend. She gave a speech to the senior class Saturday about displaced students from the Katrina hurricane, her career, and the importance of having an education.

After the speech, she spoke with an Observer reporter on the debate about teaching limited-English speaking students.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that a higher percentage of students pass standardized math and reading tests each year. Schools that fail to meet requirements two years in a row have to provide more tutoring or let students transfer to better schools.

Educators say meeting those requirements will become harder as school systems admit an increasingly larger proportion of non-English-speaking students.

North Carolina has the nation's second-fastest growing population of pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade students who are the children of
immigrants, according to a report released this month by Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.

Some school districts in high immigrant populations might receive a bit of relief by year's end.

This summer, Spellings convened a group of 12 to 15 advocates,
researchers and educators to investigate and recommend how best to serve children with limited English skills. A handful of changes are expected, such as allowing newly arrived limited-English speakers to be exempt from the reading test. But Spellings said the changes will be limited.

"I don't want to take the ostrich approach and give waivers or bury the problem as if it doesn't exist," she said. "I think we have to be
aggressive and hard about how we're going to meet these challenges."