Language panel accused of politics

Question of testing English learners leads to debate on fairness

“Assessment of Students Whose Native Language is not English Study Group” does not sound like a forum for controversy.

But political controversy is exactly what one committee member insists occurred during five half-day meetings of the 15-member committee, which completed its work last month.

The committee was created by Senate Bill 98 to study how to best test English language learners.

But bilingual education opponent Rita Montero says the group’s recommendations were slanted toward bilingual educators’ belief in Spanish language instruction.

Montero said members relied too heavily on research by a University of Colorado professor whom Montero termed a “bilingual ‘Spanish only’

She also criticized the group for making recommendations she believes will trap English learners in Spanish language classes.

She said the committee focused so much on Spanish speakers that speakers of other foreign languages were ignored. She opposed, for instance, the group’s recommendation that the state add a Colorado Student Assessment Program third-grade Spanish writing exam, saying it was unfair to offer CSAPs in Spanish, but not in other foreign languages. The state already has Spanish CSAPs in third-grade reading and third- and fourth-grade reading and writing.

Montero also accused State Board of Education member Gully Stanford of trying to participate on the committee even though he was not a member.

Montero chairs English for the Children of Colorado, a committee that supports a statewide ballot initiative that would require most foreign language speakers to be mainstreamed after one year of intensive English instruction.

Stanford co-chairs English +, a committee that opposes Montero’s initiative.

Montero claims Stanford appeared at two different meetings, where he
“whispered in different committee members’ ears and essentially participat(ed) in the group’s work” — even, at one point, pulling his chair up to the table.

Stanford denies her accusations.

“Rita Montero and the group she was sitting with invited me to interact with their group,” he said. “This is reaching for straws by a bankrupt political campaign. There was no opportunity to promote any particular educational ideology.”

Colorado Department of Education testing director Carolyn Haug, who attended the meetings, also denied Montero’s accusations.

“Whenever we’re talking about measuring the progress of language acquisition, we’re talking about all students,” she said, responding to Montero’s accusations that the group focused too heavily on Spanish speakers.

She said she did not observe Stanford sneaking his way onto the committee.

“They were public meetings,” she said. “Other people came as visitors as well. His presence was perfectly fine.”

Copyright 2002, Rocky Mountain News

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