Since English learners’ scores will count, we must quit bickering and focus on finding the best ways to educate them - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Since English learners’ scores will count, we must quit bickering and focus on finding the best ways to educate them

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Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2007 6:38 am | Updated: 7:19 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Tom Horne’s seen this train coming for a while now. He’s been trying to derail it, but things aren’t looking too promising at the moment.

The state superintendent of public instruction has busied himself with filing complaints and lawsuits demanding an end to a federal testing requirement that we agree is unreasonable, but it’s probably not going away any time soon.

The U.S. Department of Education is enforcing the No Child Left Behind Act’s requirement that all student scores be part of the equation while determining whether schools are teaching kids well enough to meet federal standards.

This becomes a bigger problem in Arizona (and some other states) due to a voter-approved law that all students must be tested in English, with no regard to their proficiency in the language. The federal department has departed from a behind-the-scenes agreement with Horne to give English-learning students a more reasonable three years before their understandably lower scores could be used to penalize the schools trying to teach them.

Elementary and high schools that don’t meet or exceed NCLB’s standards get more federal funding and attention, but lose local control over curriculum, hiring and administration in the process. This can mean anything from districts having to pay to transport students to higher-achieving schools outside their attendance boundary to a wholesale takeover of campuses that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” five years in a row.

Educational experts quoted in a Sunday Tribune story estimate it takes three to seven years for most students to get a firm-enough grasp of the language to really succeed at testing, which is the one tool NCLB has — or at least chooses to use within thousands of pages of regulations — to measure a school’s success.

There are schools in the East Valley and elsewhere in the state which must teach the basics of the English language, as well as every other subject, to 80 percent or more of their student population.

This is the train wreck Horne has tried to avert through legal and administrative maneuvers. Given that the federal Department of Education will begin using the scores of English learners tested this week to measure schools’ progress, it’s probably time for everyone to put more effort into settling upon exactly how to teach these kids to perform to the best of their abilities.

This needs to be done not just to close out the state’s protracted federal litigation on the subject, but for the benefit of society as a whole. As U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spelling said in a recent appearance at a Mesa school, two-thirds of English learner students nationwide were born in the U.S. So like it or not, they are America’s children, inheritors of the legacy of public education that has created this nation of relatively educated citizenvoters which has made our experiment in democracy as successful as it has been.

Our nation’s continued success depends on those students’ ability to become valid contributors to our economy and society.

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