Limited-English students trial halted
Oct. 26, 2006

Federal judge rules state failed to share data on bilingual education
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau | Section: Houston & Texas News

AUSTIN — A federal judge Thursday abruptly stopped a trial over allegations that Texas neglects children with limited English skills because attorneys for the state had not shared current data with civil rights groups. The case has been postponed until Dec. 4. "English language learners are failing, and the state is not doing a darn thing about it," said David Hinojosa, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the lead attorney for the civil rights groups, including LULAC and the GI Forum.

The case is before U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice, who first ordered the state to improve education for limited-English students 35 years ago. Justice recessed the trial after lawyers for the civil rights groups complained that the Texas attorney general's office had withheld new data determining whether certain school districts needed intervention to beef up their bilingual education programs and whether the state would monitor those school districts.

"What they made available to us is the same thing they made available to the general public. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, they're looking at the more recent data and they're saying, 'You have to wait until we put it up on the Web site in November,' " said Roger Rice, a lawyer for Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy Associates, which specializes in bilingual issues. "The judge felt it's unfair, and it is unfair."

Justice stopped the trial because, he said, "I want both sides to have the benefit of the newest data." Lawyers for the state declined to discuss the case. The Texas Education Agency relies on a performance-based monitoring system to track how well students with limited English proficiency are performing in every school district, said Tom Kelley, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

"Only today, MALDEF asked to analyze data used by the TEA over the past few weeks in an effort to conduct interventions in these programs," Kelley said in a written statement. "This party has not previously requested this specific information, but the TEA will nonetheless provide this testing data for pinpointing interventions to be made in over 300 school districts in 2006."

Limited-English students struggle severely on the state's standard Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, commonly known as the TAKS test. While 75 percent of seventh-grade Anglo students met the standard on all tests for the 2004-05 school year, only 16 percent of limited-English students met that standard.

In the ninth grade, 73 percent of Anglo students met the standard, compared with 13 percent for limited-English students. In the 11th grade, 82 percent of Anglo students met the standard, compared with 19 percent for limited-English students. The civil rights groups want Justice to issue an injunction that requires the state to honor the existing court order to provide equal educational opportunities for all children.

Failure of Defendants’ Program for LEP Students 26. TEA’s failures in the areas of monitoring and enforcement are of particular concern  given the difficulties faced by LEP students who are lagging substantially behind in  the Texas schools, whether measured by state-mandated examinations, grade  retention or similar indicia of success.   27. With few exceptions, nearly every student in Texas schools in grades 3-11, including  LEP students, are expected to take an examination known as the Texas Assessment of  Knowledge and Skills (or TAKS).  TEX. EDUC. CODE § 28.011.  LEP students are  required to take the TAKS in English at the secondary level.  Passage of the TAKS  test in English in four different subject areas at the secondary level is a graduation  requirement for all Texas public school students.  TEX. EDUC. CODE § 39.025.  28. According to TEA data, many LEP students have enrolled in schools in the United  States for three or more years, and many others for five years or more.  Only about  10% of LEP students are recent immigrants.

29. According to TEA data in 2004-2005, more than 8 out of 10 (84%) of Texas LEP  students in Grade 7 failed to meet the state’s standards on the TAKS test; more than 8  out of 10 (86%) of Texas LEP students in Grade 8 failed to meet the state’s standards  on the TAKS test; almost 9 out of 10 (87%) of Texas LEP students in Grade 9 failed  to meet the state’s standards on the TAKS test; and more than 9 in 10 (94%) of Texas  LEP students in Grade 10 failed to meet the state’s standards on the TAKS test.