Ariz. disputes ELL test change
Arizona Daily Star

Feds give pupils only two years to learn English

By Jeff Commings
Tucson, Arizona | Published:
Provisional changes in the part of the No Child Left Behind Act that slaps "failing" and "succeeding" labels on schools are affecting nearly every state.
But among the four states bordering Mexico, Arizona seems to be the only one arguing against the law that reduces the amount of time English-language learners have to master the language before their state assessment scores count.
Before the 2005-06 school year, ELL students in Arizona had three years to become proficient before their scores counted toward Adequate Yearly Progress, the federal criteria that grade districts and schools on their rates of improvement. Now, ELL students have only two years to learn the language, a change that is being challenged by state Superintendent Tom Horne.
Last year, 237 Arizona schools did not pass muster in the Adequate Yearly Progress criteria. This year, figures from the state show that 650 out of 1,881 public schools will be classified as not making progress under the federal guidelines.
Of those 650 schools, 110 of them are affected by the new ELL standards. Many of the others are affected by two other new changes adding three elementary grades to those already surveyed and requiring that the test be taken by special-education students not on federally approved assistance.
Horne is taking the issue to federal court, he said, because "they made an agreement with me (to allow ELL students three years to learn English), and now they're reneging on that agreement."
Unfortunately for the 110 schools affected by the change, appeals will be denied by Horne "because if we don't follow their (federal) rules, we'll get fined," he said. But if Horne is successful in his lawsuit, the appeals could be heard.
Two of the border states, Texas and New Mexico, are not affected by the law change because they give their state assessment tests in Spanish and English, which means a student doesn't need to have a high level of English proficiency to pass the tests.
"That can make a big difference," said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman BeEtta Culbertson.
California requires all students to pass the state test in English, but ELL students' test scores have been counted after their first year since the introduction of No Child Left Behind, said Bill Padia, that state's deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability.
"It's not an issue for us," he said.
Horne said that while it's possible for ELL students to become proficient in English after their first year, passing a test in English at that time is another matter.
"No person with common sense can believe a person can come here from Mexico and pass the AIMS test in three years," Horne said. "They're saying that if you have a significant number of ELL students, we condemn you to failure, no matter how good you are."
School labels are expected to be released to the public on Friday.
● Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or