No English-Speaker Left Behind

Without alternate-language tests for non-native speakers, schools may get a failing grade from the feds

| April 12, 2007

Imagine moving to a new country, attempting to learn a new language, and having your intelligence measured by tests that you can barely read. According to articles in the Monterey County Weekly and the East Valley Tribune, Arizona and California -- states with high immigrant populations -- require students to take standardized tests in English, regardless of their proficiency in the language. As a result, test scores are lower and schools are failing to meet federal regulations under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The White House has touted the law as the means to strengthen elementary and secondary schools by relying on annual standardized testing to measure schools' improvement. The law has received harsh criticism from parents and teachers worried about the sanctions schools face for low scores. Factor in the test results of English learners, and schools have an even greater chance of being labeled 'in need of assistance.'

The NCLB requires that students show increasing levels of proficiency in math and reading. But, Zachary Stahl reports for the Monterey County Weekly, the law doesn't mention offering tests in students' native languages or allowing schools to exclude the results of non-native speakers. According to Stahl, 10 districts in California are suing the state asking for English learners to be allowed to take tests in Spanish. Results of the case could affect almost a quarter of the state's pupils. California state Senator Denise Ducheny recently presented her third bill promoting alternative testing; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed her previous two attempts.

Numerous other governors, however, support alternatives for English learners. Pauline Vu writes for that the National Governors Association sent a list of recommendations to Congress on ways to improve the act, which is up for renewal this year. Among the suggestions, Vu writes, is 'allowing states to decide the most appropriate way to test students,' which could provide students more time to learn English before taking the tests.

In the end, it may come down to state laws regarding standardized tests. As reported in the East Valley Tribune, the state superintendent of public instruction filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Education in an attempt to reinstate Arizona's previous policy of excluding the scores of certain non-native English learners. The case was dismissed in February.

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