Proficiency in progress for English learners
Arizona Republic
Jan. 11, 2009


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 state Department of Education 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 Arizona Education Association.