Proficiency in progress for English learners
Ariz. programs for English-language learners have become more effective, study says
Arizona schools will move more students out of English-learner programs once they have mastered the language, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said last week.
The number of English-language learner students moving out of the program has recently doubled across the state. Of Arizona's 163,165 English-language learner students, 10.7 percent progressed into regular classrooms for the 2006-07 year, while the latest figures show 22 percent progressed in 2007-08.
"We are about to experience a skyrocketing in reclassifying our ELL students into (English) proficiency," Horne said.
A new national study supports that view. Called "Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population," by Education Week magazine, the annual report analyzes and ranks the 50 states' efforts in a number of areas, including a special analysis this year on the steps to address the increasing English-language learner population. Throughout the nation, English-language learner students have increased by 57 percent between 1995 and 2005 for a total of 5.1 million.
Arizona schools got high marks for rigorous standards and for holding schools accountable, including those for its English-language learners.
Currently, there are more than 140,000 English-language learner students in Arizona, or slightly more than 10 percent of Arizona's 1 million public-school children in about 330 districts and charter schools.
The state took special measures to attract and train more English-language learner teachers because of a new program begun this school year. Unlike most other states, the report cited Arizona for having English-language learner teaching standards, while offering incentives for educators to earn a teaching endorsement.
This year, students not proficient in English are given four hours a day of language instruction, much greater than the 30 to 60 minutes a day in the past.
Arizona is under a court order to improve instruction to children struggling to learn English.
The new English-learner program calls for:
• Four hours per day of English instruction in speaking, listening, grammar, reading and writing.
• English-learner students must be kept out of mainstream classes during those four hours.
• Students must be grouped according to four levels of English proficiency.
• Classes are taught by highly qualified teachers or those certified in English as a second language.
Before the new program, state-education officials said students could spend six or seven years in the old program before becoming proficient in English, while the new model means a much shorter track for learning English, or about a year, especially for elementary students.
Mesa Public Schools, the state's largest district, already shows signs of advancing its English-language learner students, which amount to more than 10,000 students of the district's 69,700 population.
"We have tried to do our best to implement the four-hour model," said Susan DePrez, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She cited the more than 2,000 teachers earning an endorsement in English as a second language.
More importantly, English-language learner students have tested out of the program and into mainstream classrooms at a higher-than-required rate of 14 percent. In spring 2008, 22 percent of English-language learner students in grades K-5 tested as "proficient"; 20 percent of students in Grades 6-8 did so, as did 19 percent of high-school students.
But these advances could hit a wall because of money. The state Legislature begins Monday and must cut more than $1 billion from the current state budget.
Arizona's biggest problems, under the Education Week criteria, may be financing for the 2009 year, with the state receiving a D-plus grade from the magazine. The report ranks Arizona 50th in the nation when it comes to student spending, or $7,112 per student, compared with a national average of $9,963, for the 2006 year.
"We're still looking at a school system we consider an expense and not an investment," said John Wright, president of the .