Austin (Texas): schools overlooked 2000 LEP students

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed May 23 16:32:35 UTC 2007

By Katie Humphrey
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A database created to help Austin school officials monitor students
who have limited English skills has revealed that as many as 2,000
were never evaluated to see whether they needed bilingual education or
English as a second language services. About 20,000 students in the
Austin district participate in bilingual education or ESL. State law
requires the district to evaluate within 20 days the needs of students
who indicate that a language other than English is spoken
at home. Such students may qualify to take state achievement tests —
which they must pass for promotion in some grades — in Spanish.

The district launched the online Language Proficiency Assessment
System in January to streamline the tracking of students who have
limited English skills, which had previously been a paper-based

About six weeks ago, district officials realized that some students
who had said that a language other than English was spoken at home
were never tested. Officials are still determining the scope of the

"When we discovered this, we were all shocked and heartbroken," said
Martha García, executive director of bilingual education and ESL for
the district. "There are obvious moral and ethical implications — and
legal implications. But we also felt like we are on the right track
because we developed this system that showed us an error that was

García began working with the district to construct the database when
she became executive director two years ago. The database and improved
communication among campuses should ensure that the oversight won't
happen again, she said.

But some community groups, while praising García for uncovering the
problem, say the bilingual education and ESL programs need more
resources to make sure that students who need help get it.

Cynthia Valadez, Austin chapter representative of Mothers Against
Discriminatory Racism in Education and Society, is among those who
want the district to create an associate superintendent position to
deal with "special populations," including English language learners
and special education students.

Unidos de Austin, a coalition of local Hispanic advocacy groups, asked
administrators to investigate how students were left out and offer
additional services to the students so they can catch up.

There are 2,000 students who the district knows about because they are
still in school, but there could be many more if the problem has
existed for years or others have dropped out of school out of
frustration, Valadez said.

"AISD needs to do everything in their power to make sure that
(students) are brought up to speed," Valadez said. "This is not only
affecting their academic career; this is going to determine the
quality of life they are going to have outside AISD."

On the recommendation of the Texas Education Agency, the district is
determining whether the students were able to pass the Texas
Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. About 700 students who have not
passed the TAKS are being tested for possible inclusion in the
bilingual education or ESL programs, García said.

The school district has set a May 25 deadline to finish evaluating the
students so additional programs, such as tutoring or more classroom
assistance, can be allocated to help the students.

"We want to rectify this," García said. "We want to ensure that all
students get the best services that they can."

khumphrey at; 445-3658

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