April 12, 2005
Money to help English language learners prepare for the AIMS test has not yet reached many East Valley classrooms — even though the exam started Monday at elementary and middle schools across the state.
The assistance comes even later for high school students, who started AIMS testing last month and finish today with the math portion of the exam.
For the third year in a row, teachers who work with English learners will have to wait until after the test is given to set up tutoring programs with $15 million state lawmakers allocated in 2002 under orders from a federal judge.
"In terms of preparing for the spring 2005 test, that money won’t help these students," Chandler Unified School District spokesman Terry Locke said.
Lawmakers established the tutoring fund as part of a temporary settlement to Flores v. Arizona.
In that case, a judge at U.S. District Court in Tucson ruled that the state was not doing enough to educate English learners.
The temporary settlement, which will expire June 30, gave state lawmakers three years to conduct a cost study of what public schools actually need to educate immigrant students. Besides the $5 million per year to help struggling English learners prepare for Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, lawmakers established other pools of money for such things as teacher training.
Tim Hogan, the attorney who filed the Flores case for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said the state Department of Education should have distributed the tutoring money to Arizona school districts and charter schools several months ago.
"The explanations that I’ve been given for the delays haven’t been satisfactory," he said. "I don’t know why they were sitting on it."
Margaret Garcia Dugan, associate superintendent of academic achievement for the Arizona Department of Education, said her office had to deal with school districts that missed filing deadlines or submitted paperwork with errors.
"We put out the money as soon as we possibly can," Dugan said. "We’re not keeping it, and we’re not playing games."
She said schools have other sources of money to provide AIMS tutoring before exam week, including federal grant money and $10 million the state distributed in January to help high school students.
"To say they bank on this money to be the silver bullet for AIMS — I would say that there’s other money out there," Dugan said.
She also said the state distributed the tutoring money all three years at about the same time, and she cannot understand why educators who did not complain in previous years would be upset now.
Devon Isherwood, principal at Adams Elementary School in west Mesa, said her frustration has accumulated since 2002 — and the delay this year was like the last straw.
"It’s extremely frustrating," she said.
The Mesa Unified School District received $118,000 on Thursday to help English learners prepare for AIMS, and the district office distributed the money among its schools on the same day. About $5,300 went to Adams Elementary.
"I was ready to go, but we needed the money so we could divide it up," said Irene Frklich, language acquisition specialist for the Mesa district. "This money should be available at the beginning of the school year."
Gloria Chavez, a teacher at Adams Elementary who serves as education spokeswoman for the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, said many teachers no longer believe the Department of Education cares about the needs of Hispanic children. She said she tutors children for free during lunch and after school, and assistance from the state would be nice.
"It feels like we’re having to fight the people who are supposed to be supporting us," Chavez said. "We’re on the front lines down here. It’s hard work."
Elementary school students designated as English learners failed AIMS at about twice the rate as other students in 2004. At the middle and high school levels, English learners failed AIMS at quadruple the rate as other students.
Overall last spring, more than nine in 10 English learners in high school failed AIMS.