Judge to hear arguments on Arizona's efforts to help students learn English - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Judge to hear arguments on Arizona's efforts to help students learn English

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Posted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 4:36 pm | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Sep 2, 2010.

A federal judge is hearing arguments this week over whether the state is complying with federal laws to help students learn English.

Attorney Tim Hogan who represents a group of Nogales parents who first sued in 1992 wants U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to conclude Arizona is not meeting its obligation under the Equal Education Opportunity Act. That requires states to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn, an opportunity that specifically requires states to take "appropriate action" to help them become proficient in English.

Another federal judge ruled in 2000 that the state was not meeting that obligation.

Since that time, Collins has said various plans being presented by the state to come into compliance have fallen short. He also imposed fines, though these were subsequently dismissed.

Last year, though, the U.S. Supreme Court said Collins overstepped his authority by taking the evidence of how well students were performing in Nogales, where the suit originated, and then ordering Arizona to do more statewide. The justices told Collins his prior orders for the state to spend more to help the more than 100,000 "English language learners" cannot stand unless he gets evidence of statewide violations.

Hogan claims to have that evidence. The hearing, which started Wednesday, is his chance to present that proof.

One issue is the state's program putting English learners into separate immersion classes for four hours a day. Hogan said that amounts to illegal segregation which can have "harmful and pernicious effects" which can be "permanent and irreversible."

But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the program is working. He cited figures showing a 30 percent increase in reclassifying students from learners to being English proficient.

Horne also said the U.S. Supreme Court, in a different case, has said schools can separate kids "if it's for a limited time and for a valid educational purpose."

Hogan also contends Horne altered the program so that fewer children qualify for the special help. Horne said that's not the case.

And Hogan is objecting to a "cumulative scoring" provision in the test used to determine proficiency. He said that means a student who does well on the oral part of the exam can be judged proficient even if that youngster fails the reading and writing sections.

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