State officials say reforming bilingual education is “essential,”
based on a report today that shows only 4 percent of limited English-
proficient students in 1997-98 had learned enough to enter regular
The rate was even lower in the Tucson Unified and Sunnyside school
districts, but some local educators say the state report is
incomplete and gives an inaccurate picture of what is happening in
In TUSD, 184 of 8,935 students – or 2 percent – in English
acquisition programs were deemed proficient to transfer. In
Sunnyside, 56 of 4,022 – or 1.4 percent – were reclassified.
“If we are a state that believes in providing an extraordinary
education to all students, and that raising student achievement
levels is important, we cannot sit idly by and accept results like
these,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan
said in a letter yesterday to legislators.
“The Arizona Department of Education, while not making specific
policy recommendations in this report, believes very strongly that
program reform is essential.”
Tucson Unified School District officials have heard the argument
“My concern is that the department states that (bilingual) program
reform is essential and continues to imply that school reform is
necessary, but there is no funding and support for that to occur,”
said Becky Montao, assistant superintendent for
The report shows 4 percent, or 4,527 of 111,207 limited English-
proficient (LEP) students, were reclassified as English-proficient by
their school districts last year – compared with 2.8 percent in 1996-
Students are reclassified when they meet five criteria: oral
proficiency, reading, writing, parent opinion and teacher
Only 38,478 students were actually subjected to those criteria.
Of students reassessed last year, nearly 12 percent were
Fifty-three percent of those students passed the oral language
proficiency portion, 36 percent passed the writing portion, and 22
percent passed the reading portion of the assessment process.
Individual district statistics were to be released later today,
and Montao said many factors are missing in the report.
“There are no mobility figures about the number of students that
are entering or exiting or who are recent arrivals to all the
districts, so that is kind of lost in the data,” she explained.
Another omission, Montao said, is that districts did not have
results from Stanford 9 tests last spring, which are used to
reclassify students’ reading levels.
Students need to score above the 36 percentile in order to pass
the reading portion of the reclassification criteria.
Montao said the state department did not release those scores to
TUSD until August – too late for the district to use for determining
which students would be eligible for exiting bilingual and English as
a Second Language classrooms.
Department spokeswoman Laura Penny said districts still had access
to hard-copy data from individual schools.
Still, the report doesn’t “differentiate one (bilingual) program
from another,” said Leonard Basurto, TUSD director of bilingual
education and Mexican-American studies.
“All the students were lumped together,” he said.
Also, by focusing in large on reclassification rates, the report
does not address how bilingual programs are actually set up, Basurto
said in an interview last week.
“To a lot of people, bilingual means Spanish only, when as a
matter of fact, there is more English than Spanish,” he said.
Basurto said Spanish-predominant instruction in TUSD is primarily
reserved for beginning bilingual students in kindergarten and first
“(Just) because a student is still in a bilingual education
program doesn’t mean he is not having mainstream classes,” he added.
The state report indicates that about 75 percent of the
reclassified students last year were deemed English-proficient after
only four years of bilingual or ESL instruction.
Penny said the finding contradicts a popular notion among
proponents of bilingual education that it takes seven to 10 years to
Keegan could not be reached for comment.
Students in English Acquisition Programs
1997-98 school year
Total Number of Pima County Students in English Acquisition
* – Students reassessed and reclassified as English-proficient.
** – Students in English Acquisition Programs were classified as
limited English-proficient. Programs include bilingual education,
English as a Second Language and individualized curriculums.
Source: “Bilingual Programs and English As A Second Language
Programs,” School Year 1997-98 Report, Arizona Department of