Proposed ELL Guidelines Criticized as Too Rigid
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Tue Jun 10 13:42:49 UTC 2008
Proposed ELL Guidelines Criticized as Too Rigid
By Mary Ann Zehr
Education officials in several states with large
English-language-learner populations are bristling at a proposal by
the U.S. Department of Education that they say would curb their
flexibility in deciding when children are fluent in English and if
they still need special services for ells. The comment period closed
June 2 on the proposed "interpretation" of Title III of the No Child
Left Behind Act, the main conduit of federal funds for
English-language-acquisition programs, generating a two-inch stack of
responses to the proposal published in the Federal Register on May 2.
("Consistent ELL Guides Proposed," May 14, 2006.) The responses
include critical or skeptical comments from officials in states with
some of the largest populations of English-learners, particularly
California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas.
Education Department officials have said that a goal of the proposed
interpretation is to create more consistency in how the federal
education law is implemented for English-language learners. If made
final as now written, the guidance is intended to reduce some
variations among states, and among school districts within states in
how they report the progress of students in learning English. Elissa
Leonard, an Education Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail
message that the department expects to publish a final version of the
interpretation by the end of the summer and a timetable for
implementation will be included in that notice. She said the
department had received 73 comments—23 of them are from states.
Officials in California—which educates about a third of the nation's
5.1 million English-language learners—submitted some of the most
strongly worded criticism of the proposed interpretation. State
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and California
State Board of Education President Theodore R. Mitchell wrote that the
interpretation suggests "a completely new way" of defining
English-language-proficiency goals under the law and that the proposed
changes "conflict with the guidance and interpretations that the U.S.
Department of Education provided in the past."
Texas officials said that they would like to proceed with the
approaches they now use to set goals for students with limited
proficiency in English to acquire the language unless the department's
proposed interpretation is included in the pending reauthorization of
the nclb law.
Little Flexibility Seen
One of the major objections of the top California education officials
to the proposed interpretation is that it would require states to use
the same criteria for determining if students have attained
proficiency in English that they use to determine when students should
leave special programs for English-learners. California, along with
Virginia and some other states, permits school districts to have the
final word on when English-language learners should cease to receive
special instruction in English. "Since standardization of these local
criteria is exceedingly difficult, this interpretation will in effect
require states to eliminate them and thereby restrict the role of
teachers and parents in making educationally important decisions
regarding program placement and instructional services," the
California officials wrote.
Parents and teachers would thus be "disenfranchised from participating
in these important educational decisions," they added.
Districts, Teachers Respond
Opposition to that same aspect of the proposed interpretation was also
contained in statements submitted by the California School Boards
Association, California State pta, Association of California School
Administrators, Californians Together, California Teachers
Association, and several California school districts. Officials in
Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon also criticized the proposed
change, saying it would reduce the ability of school districts to make
decisions about ells. The American Federation of Teachers, the
National Education Association, and the Council of the Great City
Schools took a similar view.
But officials from some other states, including Alabama, Delaware, and
Indiana, favored requiring the criteria to be the same within states
for students to attain proficiency in English and to leave programs.
While most of the comments submitted to the Education Department came
from those representing state or national education agencies or
organizations, a few school district officials or teachers also filed
comments. Some of them expressed concern that testing requirements
under the No Child Left Behind law were robbing English-learners of
important instructional time.
For that reason, some educators said they believe that schools should
be able to continue to permit English-language learners to "bank"
favorable test scores in the English domains of reading, writing,
speaking, or listening, so they don't have to be retested in that
particular area. The Education Department wants to put a stop to that
practice and require students to be retested in all four domains until
they test at least proficient in all of them.
"It is very time consuming and thus a big detractor from effective
instructional time to continue to annually retest
[limited-English-proficient] students in all four domains,
particularly when they are proficient in three of the four," wrote
Jessica Loose, the lead English-as-a-second-language teacher for the
4,700-student Dare County school district in North Carolina.
Under the nclb law, English-learners must be included in the regular
state standardized tests in mathematics and reading given in grades 3
to 8 and once in high school. In addition, English-learners in grades
K-12 must be assessed each year by an English-language-proficiency
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