US: Feds offer states flexibility in testing limited-English students

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Sep 16 15:40:28 UTC 2006

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>>From the Appleton Post-Crescent

Feds offer states flexibility in testing limited-English students

By Kathy Walsh Nufer
Post-Crescent staff writer September 15, 2006

The U.S. Education Department gave states final permission this week to
omit test scores of newly enrolled, limited-English students when grading
schools. States have been allowed to exempt test scores on a case-by-case
basis since 2004, when former Education Secretary Rod Paige announced the
draft policy. Forty of them now do it. The final version, announced
Wednesday by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, opens the offer to
all states. It also adds language to ensure that students learning English
arent ignored. We recognize that there are legitimate issues when students
move to this country not speaking English, Spellings said. They do need to
have some sort of adequate time to get up to speed.

That is welcome news to Bill Curtis, Appleton Area School Districts
coordinator of English Language Learners and Bilingual Education, who said
ELL students need adequate time to learn a new language before they can be
tested. About 1,300 students, nearly 10 percent of Appletons enrollment,
are enrolled in ELL programs and about 100, mostly Hmong refugees and
Hispanic students new to the country, participate in various district
newcomers programs. Many started from nothing, with no alphabet and no
schooling, Curtis said.  Its not something that can be accomplished
overnight and they are certainly not ready for this test. We want to test
ELL students, but when its appropriate. The increased flexibility is
intended to give schools extra time to work with ELL students before they
are held accountable for their yearly progress under the No Child Left
Behind law.

The policy applies only to students who have been in a U.S. school for
less than a year. States may exempt their math and reading scores when
measuring yearly progress. Curtis noted that the Wisconsin Knowledge and
Concepts Exam (WKCE) tests given statewide are not appropriate for
students new to the country. The fact that they are being exempted, from
instructional standpoint, makes a lot of sense because they wont be able
to use their very basic language to do well at all. Not penalizing schools
with new ELL students makes sense as well, he said.  We work hard and
definitely embrace our ELL learners and give them as much support as we
can, but at the same time it is not a fair system to compare us to
districts without ELL learners. Curtis said the state and federal
government should look at changing testing for districts with students new
to learning English. The development of skills takes 5-7 years to be truly
academically fluent, depending on your background knowledge and your
facility with language.

Spellings spoke about the policy to reporters before announcing it at a
conference of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in
Washington. Roughly 5.4 million public school students are learning
English as a second language. Under the plan, newly enrolled students must
take their state test in math, but not in reading, in the first year. In
both subjects, their scores may be exempted for that year, and states must
disclose to the public how many children have been left out of the reading
test. The new rule also makes clear that schools should not try to turn it
into a free pass. They must still help limited-English students master
English language and content.


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