New Report - 3rd grade Teachers Question Effectiveness of AZ Language, Accountability Policies, Study says

Wayne Wright wayneewright at
Thu Dec 15 02:22:04 UTC 2005

  ****NEWS RELEASE****


CONTACT:  Wayne E. Wright (210) 458-2024, Wayne.Wright at or
Alex Molnar (480) 965-1886 (email) epsl at

TEMPE, Ariz. (Wednesday, December 14, 2005) - Arizona's English Language
Learners are being left behind academically and a survey of the state's
third-grade teachers reveals that the state's Sheltered English Immersion
(SEI) program and high-stakes testing policy could be the reasons why.

The survey, "Voices from the Classroom: A Statewide Survey of Experienced
Third-Grade English Language Learner Teachers on the Impact of Language and
High-Stakes Testing Policies in Arizona" was released by the Education
Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.  The survey
questioned a representative sample of 40 third-grade English Language
Learner (ELL) teachers in urban, rural, and reservation schools in different
school districts across the state about the education programs implemented
since the passing of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB),
Arizona LEARNS (the state school accountability program), and Proposition
203 (a voter-initiated policy that restricts bilingual education and
requires Sheltered English Immersion).

The key findings from the survey are:

* Overwhelmingly, teachers agree that English is essential, that bilingual
education can be an effective means of helping students learn English and
achieve academic success, and that Proposition 203 is too restrictive and
has resulted in less effective programs for ELL students.

* Teachers have received little to no direction from their school/district
administrators or from the state in terms of what SEI is and have provided
evidence that in practice SEI differs little from mainstream sink-or-swim
education, which is not a legal placement for ELLs under state and federal

* Overwhelmingly, ELL students are receiving little to no
English-as-a-second-language (ESL) instruction in either pull-out programs
or within their own classrooms.

* Teachers reported confusion in their schools about what Proposition 203
allows with regard to primary language support (i.e. providing assistance to
a student in his or her native language to help them understand content
taught in English).  Practices vary widely from school to school.  According
to the teachers surveyed, many administrators issued school policies that
are more restrictive than Proposition 203 itself, and state education
leaders have also contributed to the false notion that state law forbids all
use of students' native language(s).

* In schools where primary language support is allowed, teachers reported
that they are instructed to keep it to a minimum, only a few teachers make
use of it, and many teachers feel pressure not to use it by administrators
and their peers.  Some described a real climate of fear in their schools
when it comes to providing this assistance to students who need it.

* Overwhelmingly, teachers are not opposed to accountability for ELL student
achievement, but they see the need for different policies that (a) give ELL
students time to learn English before taking the state test in English, (b)
provide ELLs with appropriate accommodations, and/or (c) provide an
alternative assessment that ELLs can take until they attain a level of
English proficiency sufficient for taking the regular state test in English.

* The overwhelming majority of teachers reported increases of instructional
time in tested subject areas (reading, writing, and math), and decreases of
instructional time in all other content areas (science, social studies, ESL,
art, music, and P.E.).

* Nearly half of the teachers report that test preparation instruction
begins before Christmas, often at the beginning of the school year.  In the
month before the tests, 60 percent are taking one or more hours out of their
instructional day to prepare ELLs for the high-stakes tests (despite the
fact that most ELL test scores will be excluded from school accountability

* More than half of the teachers reported that ELLs were not provided with
the testing accommodations they are entitled to under NCLB.  In the few
schools that did provide them, practice varied widely due to the lack of a
clearly articulated state accommodation policy.

* During the administration of high-stakes tests, the overwhelming majority
of teachers reported frequently or occasionally observing their ELL students
exhibit the following behaviors: complaining that they could not read the
questions or answers, complaining that they could not understand the
questions or answers, leaving entire sections of the test blank, randomly
filling in bubbles without attempting to read the questions, becoming
visibly frustrated or upset, crying, getting sick and/or asking to go to the
nurse, and vomiting.

Authors Wayne E. Wright, from University of Texas, San Antonio, and Daniel
Choi, from Arizona State University, concluded that Proposition 203 and the
state's high-stakes testing policy have not improved education for English
Language Learners.  They offer several recommendations, including:

* School districts should be given greater flexibility in offering waivers
to those parents who want their ELL children to learn English and receive
content-area instruction through bilingual programs.

* The state should provide a clear definition of SEI, making explicit how it
differs from Mainstream sink-or-swim instruction, and ensure these classes
are taught by qualified teachers who have completed the full ESL

* The state must ensure that ELLs are not placed in Mainstream classrooms
until they are fluent in English.

* The state should make allowances for and provide clear guidelines of the
testing accommodations called for in the federal law.  This includes the
development and use of tests in the students' primary languages.

* The state should heed the federal law's allowances for alternative
content-area assessments for ELLs until they attain enough proficiency in
English to participate in the regular state test (with or without

* The state should make it explicit to administrators and teachers which ELL
students' test scores will be excluded from school accountability formulas.

* The state should establish an alternative system for ELL impacted schools
which tracks the progress of ELLs in various program types.

Find this document on the web at:

Wayne E. Wright, Assistant Professor
University of Texas, San Antonio
(210) 458-2024
Wayne.Wright at

Alex Molnar, Professor and Director
Education Policy Studies Laboratory
(480) 965-1886
epsl at

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