English-learner test scores may imperil schools
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 10, 2006
Meghan E. Moravcik
The federal government could label another 100 Arizona schools as failures by
fall if state education officials lose a battle to exclude test scores of
students who are not yet proficient in English.
It could make a costly difference to some districts if they are forced to draw
up expensive corrective plans. Until now, federal and state officials agreed
that English-language learners' test scores would not be counted until after
their third year in Arizona, according to Arizona schools chief Tom Horne. Now,
Horne said, the federal government is trying to back out of the deal.
"I'm getting ready to sue," he said. Unlike Arizona, many states count the
scores of English-language learners the first year they enter the program
because the students can take standardized tests in their native languages.
But in Arizona, English-only laws require all tests to be taken in English."It's
ridiculous to expect a kid who comes here from Mexico to pass an academic test
in English after one year," Horne said.
Horne supported the legislation that created the English-only test requirement,
and he sticks by that now, saying students must learn English to succeed in the
"Within one or two years, the student will learn enough English to be able to
learn in English," Horne said. "But for many students, it takes a third year to
become sufficiently proficient to pass an academic test."
Horne said the federal government now is trying to force Arizona schools to
count such students' scores after one year. A spokesperson for the U.S.
Department of Education declined to comment on whether the agreement is still in
play because conversations with state officials are pending.
Just two years ago, then-U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige posted a letter
online that emphasized the importance of flexibility to improve educational
opportunities for students, especially those who are learning English.
"Often, these newly arriving students have a difficult time participating in
state assessments due to language barriers or schooling experiences in their
native country," Paige wrote to colleagues.
Paige wrote that he would provide flexibility to the states in implementing No
Child Left Behind, which sets academic goals for districts nationwide.
Horne has until the end of the summer to seek a judge's ruling on whether the
federal government must uphold its oral agreement. Thereafter, the state faces
possible fines by not complying.
If the federal government prevails, Horne estimated that it could mean another
100 Arizona schools would not make their "Adequate Yearly Progress,"
or AYP, a measure based on test scores that the federal government uses to
determine how well schools are performing. In the 2004-05 school year, 237
schools failed to make adequate progress, according to the Arizona Department of
Paying the price
That can financially tax schools, said Jennifer Owin, coordinator of school
accountability and research for the Dysart Unified School District.
One school in the Dysart district did not make adequate progress last school
year, Owin said. If test requirements change, at least another four schools
might not make it this year. Under current practices, Dysart officials file an
appeal not to count non-English-speaking students' scores if they make up a
large enough group to affect the school's yearly progress. Last year, several
schools passed, thanks to that process.
If more schools fail to make adequate yearly progress, they each will have to
start creating an improvement plan and might eventually have to begin
restructuring the school, which can be expensive, Owin said.
Districts may have to provide transportation to students who want to attend
other schools, hire new staff and create new professional development
If English-language learners' scores are the only reason schools are not making
adequate progress, they'll face a lot of unnecessary consequences, she said.