State officials say schools are failing in educating limited- English students because most are stuck in specialized language programs.
A state Department of Education report released yesterday states 2,525 of the 93,528 students – just 2.7 percent – passed a series of tests making them eligible to exit English language services in 1996-97.
“We are not doing a good job of moving them into English proficiency,” said Laura Penny, the department’s Southern Arizona office director.
But local educators said the mainstreaming rate is a poor way to judge programs’ success. Other factors must be considered, such as the amount of time students spend in a program, type of instruction and the students’ mobility rate, they say.
None of that is in the report.
“I don’t think that really tells us anything,” Barbara Kohl, language acquisition director in Amphitheater Unified School District, said of the low percent rate.
“What that statistic is, is a whole mess of apples and oranges and one number comes out and people are trying to draw a conclusion. That’s very hard to do. I can’t do that,” Kohl said.
Most students can speak English well, but lack the reading and writing skills to be on par with their primarily English-speaking peers, educators said.
Penny said the department plans to ask more questions in the future, and push schools to turn in the reports. About 15 percent of districts did not submit one report.
Some educators worry the report will be used to bolster arguments to get rid of bilingual education, like California voters did last week.
That state’s Proposition 227 puts limited-English students in year-long English immersion programs before forcing them into all English classes. It is facing court challenges.
“We’re always concerned that what happened in California will spill over in Arizona, even though we think we’ve done a better job,” said Leonard Basurto, bilingual education director for Tucson Unified School District.
But a state legislator pushing for limits on services for limited-English students said the report doesn’t help her.
“This is like a surface study,” said Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe. “It’s not going to say a whole lot.”
Knaperek sponsored a bill in the spring to limit the amount of time students can spend in language services. Over the summer, she plans to review existing programs to design another bill for next year.
Under Arizona law, schools must provide a bilingual education or English as a Second Language program to limited-English students. Schools with less than 10 limited-English students draft individual education plans for those students.
The report does not compare the effectiveness of those three methods. Instead, it lumps together all limited-English students, regardless of the services they receive.
The only data in the report broken down by type of instruction is standardized test scores. Bilingual education students consistently scored higher than students in English as a Second Language, and sometimes higher than students under individual plans.
For instance, bilingual education 12th-graders scored in around the 30th percentile in Stanford 9 testing, while ESL students scored in the 18th percentile and students in plans scored in the 27th percentile.
Limited-English students must take oral, writing and reading tests every two years. They can exit the special programs if they pass those tests, and if parents and teachers agree with the move.
Only about 30,000 students took the tests in 1996-97. About 13,600 passed the oral portion, 7,255 the writing portion, and 3,540 the reading portion.
One educator said the tests are challenging even for children who speak primarily English. Most students who are mainstreamed in early grades are gifted said Wendy Goodman, TUSD bilingual education project specialist.
“If all of the monolingual English kids had to pass the same criteria . . . many of those students would not achieve that criteria,” Goodman said.
One problem is a lack of qualified teachers. By state law, teachers who instruct limited-English students must have special training, called endorsements, in bilingual education or English as a Second Language.
But almost 30 percent of those teachers lack endorsements.
While the number of limited-English students is seven times bigger than it was in 1984-85, the number of certified teachers has only quadrupled, the report states.
“Your program is only as good as your teachers,” Basurto said. “So, if your teachers aren’t fully qualified, I can guarantee you, you’re not providing a complete bilingual education program.”
Districts and colleges need to work together to produce more qualified teachers, Penny said.
TUSD has a program, called Grow Your Own, in which the district pays for teachers and other employees to become endorsed, Basurto said.
The report also states that about 6 percent of limited-English students, or 5,701 students, receive no special help. Sixty-five districts had no programs for limited-English students.
“Any number above zero is too high if it’s against the law. It saddens me,” Kohl said.
Some districts submitted faulty information, and some figures failed to match those from other departments, the report states. For example, districts requested extra funding for 105,290 limited- English students from the school finance office – almost 12,000 more students than reported in another report.
Thirty-five districts or charter schools failed to turn in one report, while 18 failed to give another.
Some still received funding for their students. In Pima County, those are: Children’s Academy of Arizona, Tanque Verde Unified School District and Vail School District.
Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker said the reports might have been “overlooked” because no administrator is assigned specifically to them. Two teachers are responsible for teaching less than 10 limited- English students.
“We have to turn in the same paperwork as a district that has 20 percent of their population qualifying for ESL,” Baker said. “They are pretty burdensome reports.”
Penny said state officials are already discussing possible questions to ask for next school year’s survey.
THE STATE’S ACTION PLAN
* Start a data system to avoid discrepancies in figures among departments, such as the number of limited-English students.BR
* Instruct districts without trained teachers to hire qualified employees.BR
* Warn districts to submit missing state-required reports within 20 days.BR
* Send letters to districts that turn in incomplete forms required to determine student eligibility for language services.BR
* Notify districts that are failing to provide language services to comply with the law.
* Total students: 694,084BR
* Limited-English students: 93,528BR
* Limited-English students receiving services: 87,827BR
* Students in English as a Second Language: 57,404BR
* Students in bilingual education: 26,248BR
* Students with individual plans: 4,175BR
* Limited-English students not receiving services: 5,701BR
* Mainstreamed students: 2,525BR
* Teachers of limited-English students: 6,152BR
* Number of those lacking specialized training: 1,830