Teachers question effectiveness of state's language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Dec 23 13:35:50 UTC 2005

>>From Arizona State News,
December 22, 2005

Teachers question effectiveness of state's language policy, study says

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

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
give ELL students time to learn English before taking the state test in
English; provide ELLs with appropriate accommodations; and/or provide an
alternative assessment that ELLs can take until they attain a level of
English proficiency sufficient for taking the regular state test in

  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.).

Authors Wayne E. Wright, from University of Texas, San Antonio, and Daniel
Choi, from ASU, 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 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 make it explicit to administrators and teachers which
ELL students' test scores will be excluded from school accountability

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

 The complete report can be found at

The Education Policy Studies Laboratory (EPSL) at Arizona State University
offers high quality analyses of national education policy issues and
provides an analytical resource for educators, journalists, and citizens.
It includes the Arizona Education Policy Initiative (AEPI), the
Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU), the Education Policy
Research Unit (EPRU), and the Language Policy Research Unit (LPRU). The
EPSL is directed by Professor Alex Molnar.

 Visit the EPSL website at http://edpolicylab.org/


Harold F. Schiffman

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