[lg policy] Oregon: Non-English proficiency tests on table in Medford

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 7 15:03:21 UTC 2012

Non-English proficiency tests on table in Medford
New school policy could increase graduations

The Medford School Board is weighing an option that would allow
non-native English speakers to complete state-required proficiency
tests in their home language to graduate.

The board must decide by the end of the month whether to allow the
policy change, which would allow only a small number of students
demonstrate proficiency in tests using their first language. The board
shared a handful of concerns about the proposed policy change during a
work session Monday, but will not vote on it until a meeting later
this month.

"I want to make sure we're graduating students with a quality
education," said board member Marlene Yesquen, who was part of a board
sub-committee formed to study the policy change. "We would be
diminishing the quality of our graduation requirement."

Yesquen and board member Jeff Thomas shared concerns that the policy
change may have been put on the table by the Oregon Department of
Education as an easy way to raise graduation rates.

The state created the "essential skills" graduation requirements in
2008, requiring districts to phase in proficiency testing in various
subjects for students, beginning with the class of 2012.

An Oregon Administrative Rule adopted in December of 2010 requires
school districts to come up with a policy on whether they will allow
the native-language proficiency tests. The district has until June 30
to make its decision.

The state estimates that between 475 and 825 graduates in Oregon each
year might fall under the policy change, which would apply only to
students that meet all other graduation requirements, according to
Terri Dahl, supervisor of federal programs for the district.

"It's a tough decision," said Dahl, who noted that although the state
is asking boards to vote on the policy change this year, she wouldn't
be surprised if the policy becomes a mandate in the future.

Dahl said that as few as four or five students in the district each
year might be eligible to use the native-language option.

Thomas said he was concerned that letting a student demonstrate
subjects such as reading and writing in their first language might
mislead students into thinking they could obtain a job in the United
States at easily as a fellow high school graduate who speaks fluent

"These kids need to graduate with hope and knowing with what they've
earned, they can be successful," said Thomas.

The policy would apply to students that have been enrolled in U.S.
schools for fewer than five years and who demonstrate an intermediate
score on an English language proficiency test to show they are
learning the language. "We're concerned that we're going to hand a
degree to a student that can't speak English," said Thomas.

The Phoenix-Talent School District approved the policy change last
year and Dahl said most districts in the state are doing the same. "It
took some staff time, but it's been well worth the effort," said
Teresa Sayre, director of instructional services for Phoenix-Talent.
Sayre said that while only one student was eligible this year, the
ability to take the test in her native Spanish language was
invaluable. "For this one student, it's making a world of difference,"
she said.

Banking on the hope that students could become proficient even after
graduating high school, board member Sally Killen said she supported
the policy change. "I hate to hold back kids and say the only time you
have to learn the language is in high school," said Killen. "I'm
inclined to support this." Board Chairwoman Paulie Brading said she
understood the concerns from other board members but supported the
idea behind the policy change.

"I think students deserve to demonstrate their proficiency no matter
what their language is," Brading said. The board approved a first
reading of the policy Monday, but will vote on whether to adopt the
change during a meeting later this month.


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