English learners still must pass AIMS
Capitol Media Services
APRIL 7, 2006


Court continues to block order to the contrary
By Howard Fischer
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/123558


PHOENIX High-school seniors who are not yet proficient in English will still have to pass the AIMS test to graduate.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Thursday to continue to block enforcement of a trial judge's order that the state cannot deny diplomas to students classified as English language learners just because they fail the standardized test of their math, writing and reading skills.

That same order also keeps $21 million in accumulated fines in the state treasury, at least for the time being. Those fines were imposed by U.S. District Judge Raner Collins for not meeting a Jan. 24 deadline for coming up with a financing plan to teach English.

The legality of both orders already is under appeal. The appellate judges last week issued a temporary stay on enforcement, which would have expired Monday had they not agreed to extend it.

But in doing so, the judges said they do not intend to rule on the appeal until at least the fourth week of July, weeks after scheduled graduation. Tim Hogan who represents parents of English learners who sued the state said that is unacceptable.

Hogan noted the federal court has ruled the state has yet to provide sufficient funding to ensure all students become proficient in English. He said it is unfair to now deny them a diploma because they cannot pass the test.

State School Superintendent Tom Horne, however, said he is pleased the court will require that all of this year's seniors have to pass the AIMS test to graduate.

"It's a fraud to tell somebody we're going to give you a diploma even though you're not proficient in reading and writing and math and English," Horne said.

Horne said about 3,000 of the estimated 62,000 students in the Class of 2006 are still not proficient in English. He said exempting these youngsters would remove the incentive "to acquire skills they would need to succeed in the economy."

Horne also believes that Collins exceeded his authority, both in imposing the fines and in ordering that the proceeds be divided up among school districts based on the number of English learners.

Thursday's order does not indicate whether the appellate judges are siding with Horne or simply want to hear arguments from both sides.