Keegan: Arizona's bilingual ed programs needs reform

TUCSON, Ariz. – A state Department of Education report says almost 95 percent of Arizona students in bilingual education programs still struggle to learn English.

The report to state lawmakers cited such causal factors as 3,400 bilingual education teachers lacking proper certification, funding decreases and a dramatic jump in the number of students enrolled in the programs.

Only 7,312 students – less than 6 percent of all those previously classified as limited English proficient – were reassessed as sufficiently versed in English to move into the mainstream, the report released Wednesday said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan told lawmakers her department believes that program reform is essential.

“If we believe in providing an extraordinary education for all students and that raising student achievement levels is important, we must put some action behind these words,” she said.

Arizona’s Department of Education is required to report to lawmakers annually on the state’s programs for limited English proficient (LEP) students, known as bilingual education and English as a Second Language.

The report came less than a week after the Senate Education Committee rejected a bill that would have quadrupled the state’s current $18 million funding of bilingual education.

It also would have helped move the state toward settling a partially successful lawsuit in which a federal judge found Arizona violating federal laws on civil rights and equal opportunities in education by underfunding bilingual education.

The report said 4,753 teachers running programs for the LEP students hold an English as a Second Language or bilingual endorsement. An additional 3,634 teachers in the programs lack such requirements, it said.

It also said the public school districts and charter schools reported a $169 million drop in funding for running LEP programs, from $370 million in 1997-98 to $211 million during 1998-99, including local grants, desegregation money and $39 million in federal funds.

Patricia Likens, a spokeswoman for Keegan, said some of the reported decline may reflect districts doing a better job now of reporting how bilingual funds are being spent.

Rep. Dan Schottel, R-Tucson, chairman of the House Education Committee, expressed concern that only 5.5 percent of LEP students were classified as English proficient. He also was disturbed by the lack of certified teachers for LEP programs.

State Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-Phoenix, who sponsored the unsuccessful legislation, said there was a 20,000-student jump in the number of LEP students last year.

“The other thing that is very evident is that we do not have the funding to take care of this issue,” Lopez said. He said he believes the court will act if the legislature doesn’t.

Students classified as LEP and enrolled in various bilingual programs scored between the 18th and 26th percentiles on Stanford 9 total reading scores – well below the state’s mean percentile of 49 percent. The testing is required of all public and charter schools.

Nearly half of more than 100,000 LEP students in second through 11th grades took Stanford 9 testing, though such students are exempt for up to three years, starting in second grade, and can take a Spanish-language or other alternative achievement exam.

More than one-fourth of 729,244 students enrolled in the state’s public school districts and charter schools came from homes in which the primary language is something other than English.

Of them, nearly 163,000, or almost 81 percent, primarily speak Spanish. More than 18,500 (9.3 percent) speak Navajo – up by 6,858, the greatest increase reported – and an additional 19,700 (9.8 percent) speak another language, the report said.

Districts and charter schools reported students speaking as many as 60 languages other than English.

In all, 132,806 students classified as LEP were in language programs, and more than two-thirds were enrolled in an English as a Second Language program.

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