Review Prompts APS to Take New Tack in Bilingual Education

Gilbert Gallegos

A federal investigation into Albuquerque Public Schools’ bilingual program found, as expected, that the district hasn’t done a good job of identifying which students should be admitted.

The yearlong investigation — a routine review being conducted in all New Mexico school districts — showed some students with limited English-speaking skills were denied access to special programs such as bilingual education. In some cases, students who didn’t need extra help were still placed in the programs.

As a result of the review, APS Superintendent Peter Horoschak has entered an “agreement for corrective action” with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Horoschak agreed to a number of conditions to bring APS’s bilingual program into compliance.

Among the changes: a new home language survey to identify students who truly need bilingual instruction.

Parents will be asked if their children speak or understand a language other than English. If the children simply understand another language, those children will now be screened to see if they need special services. If they don’t need special services, or if they met or exceeded the 50th percentile on the reading portion of a standardized test, they will not be placed in bilingual education.

“This really broadens the net to make sure we’re identifying every child,” APS spokesman Rick Murray said. “It doesn’t mean they all need special services. It puts more of a burden on the district, but it’s all going to be for the better.”

Garfield Middle School Principal Louis Martinez said he will send the new survey to all parents even though his school has been in compliance with state and federal requirements. Even though as much as 85 percent of his North Valley school’s students qualify for bilingual education, Martinez said, some Spanish-speaking students may be overlooked because they don’t speak Spanish at school.

“But they may still need the help,” he said.

Genaro Roybal, acting director of bilingual education at APS, said many programs “fall on their face because schools or districts cannot prove the program was effective.”

“The OCR (Office for Civil Rights) is saying to identify children, assess them and implement one of those programs, then see if it’s working for those kids,” he said. “If not, try other things.”

The report also found some deficiencies in training bilingual teachers and failing to recruit bilingual teachers, Roybal said.

Lew Wallace Elementary School Principal Kathy Potter said APS is struggling to hire qualified bilingual teachers because those teachers — many of whom are educated in New Mexico universities — leave the state for higher-paying jobs.

“I’ve been on recruiting trips for the district,” Potter said, “and some districts offer incentives like $2,000 to these bilingually certified teachers.

“It’s frustrating. We’re losing good people. In many situations we rely on paraprofessionals.”

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