Horne sues feds on test scores
Schools chief: English learners need more time
PHOENIX — State schools Superintendent Tom Horne is set to file suit today against the U.S. Department of Education over how schools are being assessed.
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to allow Arizona to measure the academic progress of its students without including the test scores of pupils who have less than three years of instruction in learning English. He said the schools need time to ensure that the students are proficient.
He said that is what federal officials promised, but that now the federal agency is permitting only one year to gain proficiency — and one year to ignore scores.
Horne warned that unless the state gets relief, an additional 96 schools and 17 school districts will be listed as not making adequate annual progress in educating their students. That's on top of 203 schools and 86 districts that fail even under the three-year standard that Horne prefers — and that he said Arizona is entitled to use.
Horne also said the state could lose federal money. But he said that is minor compared with schools' unnecessarily being labeled as failing.
"It's unfair to those 100 schools, because they are making adequate progress," Horne said — if you give them the three years to teach English and discount their test scores until then.
The spat surrounds the federal No Child Left Behind act, approved by Congress in 2001. That law requires each state to annually determine whether schools are making progress to ensure that students are meeting academic standards.
In Arizona, one of the tools for that is the AIMS tests, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. Exams in math, reading and writing are given at various grade levels.
Horne pointed out that a law approved by voters in 2000, which he helped get enacted, prohibits students from taking those tests in their native languages. He said that means some students who may have recently arrived from Mexico may fail AIMS solely because they do not yet understand English.
He said that is a major concern in a state such as Arizona, where about 150,000 students are classified as "English language learners," meaning they are not proficient.
Horne said he is not sorry that he pushed for the 2000 initiative, which both requires immersion courses and prohibits testing in any language other than English.
"I believe in testing in English," he said. "I just think you need to give the kids enough time to test proficiently on the test in English. In the old days, when they just taught them in Spanish, kids graduated from school without being proficient, and they were never able to compete."
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to let Arizona use that three-year standard to determine if schools are making the required academic progress.