Schools' Assessing Proficiency Limited

Raul Mosqueda has learned how school officials can foul up bilingual education and how far they will go to avoid admitting it.

It began when Mosqueda learned that his son, Christian, an eighth-grader at Avondale Junior High School, is classified: Limited English Proficient (LEP), even though the boy speaks only English.

The misclassification was the blunder of officials at both the junior high school and Agua Fria High School, which Christian is set to enter as a freshman this fall.

Dawn Thomas, director of bilingual programs at Agua Fria, said she follows the recommendations of another. Each year, she gets a list of students from Dan Wegener, Avondale Junior High’s bilingual education director. On the list are incoming students who are “LEP” and should be “monitored.”

Christian Mosqueda was one of 63 students on this year’s list.

That’s a foolish policy. Referrals put some administrators at the mercy of others and set students’ futures in concrete.

Thomas claimed that students are “assessed” for eligibility, but the assessment is just as foolish.

A student is “LEP”‘ if a parent indicates, on a form, that Spanish – in any quantity – is spoken at home. By that definition – and if cursing counts – I was “LEP”growing up because of phrases my mother used when I spilled on the carpet.

Likewise, classifying his English-speaking son, Christian, as “LEP” struck Mosqueda – who did indicate, on a form, that a little Spanish is spoken at home – as outrageous.

District officials said that they caught the mistake and pledged that Christian will not be enrolled in bilingual classes this fall. But Raul Mosqueda claims that the mistake came to light only because he was an alert parent who complained. And he is convinced that, if he hadn’t, he’d be buying his son a Spanish dictionary for classes.

Bilingual education policies this bad are tied to the fact that districts are on their honor to “assess” a student’s eligibility.

Some districts claim that they test students but don’t. Others deny drafting students on the basis of surname but admit that the practice goes on elsewhere. Still others have procedures so baffling that they would probably get the same names if they consulted a fortuneteller.

Districts have a perverse incentive to keep assessment standards lenient. The standards dictate whether a district gets funding for one student or one thousand. The number of students corraled into a program then defines everything from the program’s revenue to its budget to administrative salaries.

Mosqueda – who learned that his other two children, both students at Agua Fria High School, are also “LEP” – is worried and upset.

He’s worried that the LEP label will follow his children, since administrators refuse to remove it from their files. And he’s worried that his children may yet be placed in bilingual classes.

He’s upset that administrators are reacting to all this like an EPA team cleaning up a toxic spill. They seem more concerned with keeping things quiet, and keeping their jobs, than with formulating policies that sort students correctly. Indeed, they are attacking a public relations nightmare with a diligence that they should devote to upholding standards, policing themselves, and improving parent communication.

Thomas blamed the foul-up on the referral list, upon which she obviously relied too heavily. She doesn’t understand why students of different abilities were mixed together. She suggested that Wegener, who was reassigned from the high school to the junior high school, may have wanted to complicate things for a former employer.

Wegener called that “pure speculation.” While he conceded that Christian Mosqueda doesn’t belong in bilingual classes, he said he told Thomas that. Defending the decision to classify the boy as “LEP,” Wegener called his assessments “conservative” and in line with the law. Anyway, he said, “there’s no harm done” by an LEP label.

No harm. No responsibility. Wegener said his referral was proper but “couldn’t say” what happened at the high school. High school officials claim they acted properly but wouldn’t vouch for what happened at the junior high.

The administrative last word is: All’s well that ends well.

Wrong on both counts. Mosqueda said that this will not end until the “LEP” label is expunged from the files of his three English-speaking children. And one thing should be clear to school officials, to liberal proponents of bilingual education who want to give Latinos like Mosqueda every right except the freedom to question their help, and to all those who blindly support the program and hope for the best.

In Agua Fria, and perhaps elsewhere, all is not well.

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