Educators fear test promotes students who aren't ready
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 2, 2006
The state says that Luis Jaime is proficient in English.
This means he is ready for the regular classroom and is no longer part of the
English-learner program where he got extra help to learn the language.
In reality, his teacher, Sandra Lambie, must still give him lots of extra help.
That's because the fifth-grader's reading and writing scores were below
proficient, according to the language proficiency test. But his speaking skills
were high enough that when the three scores were added together he had an
overall passing score.
The 11-year-old's parents speak mainly Spanish. He learned most of his English
at his school, G. Frank Davidson Elementary, where he has been a student for
Luis is one of 2,234 students in the Cartwright School District who passed the
Stanford English Language Proficiency Test last year. The number of students who
passed was nearly double the year before. Before the state changed proficiency
tests, Cartwright students were tested with the Idea Proficiency Test. That test
required students to pass all parts - reading, writing and speaking - to be
rated proficient in English.
Cartwright's experience is similar to what is happening across Arizona. In a
single year, the number of students who passed the new test doubled. Teachers
say the sudden increase is because the new state-mandated test is easier to
pass, not because more children learn English more rapidly. They worry some
students who passed this year aren't ready for the regular classroom.
In Cartwright, only 50 percent of fifth-graders who passed the test last year
were proficient on all areas of the test. Large percentages of students who
passed the language test also failed Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards,
which measures reading, writing and math. Luis failed all three parts of the
AIMS test last year.
State Department of Education officials and the test's publisher, Harcourt
Assessment, say the Stanford is a reliable measure of proficiency. Company
spokesman Rick Blake said some students are stronger in some areas than others,
which is why the test uses a composite score to determine overall proficiency.
"We think it's very good," he said of the test.
Education Department officials say that passing the language test doesn't mean
students will also pass AIMS because the Stanford measures language while AIMS
measures knowledge of academics.
Because so many students weren't proficient in every area of the Stanford test,
Jodi Bernhardt, the principal at Luis' school, doesn't take the test results at
She and the teachers at his school are determined to give the kids the extra
help they need even though the kids are no longer in the English-learner program
and the district no longer gets an extra $358 in state funding for each student.
In Luis' case, it's help with writing.
He uses simple sentences and sometimes will misspell common words, using "bout"
when he means "bought" and "especiall" when he means special.Three times a week
when the other students read at their desks, the teacher pulls him aside for 15
minutes to help him write and work on vocabulary.
"He needs a lot of support and with that, he'll get there," said Leticia Ruelas,
the school's language acquisition specialist.
Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8072.