Arizona Forced to Adopt Better Practices for Identifying English Language Learners

Last Updated: September 26, 2012

This article appeared in the September 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Arizona has signed an agreement that could end a long running dispute with the federal government over how it identifies students who are learning English. The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education had investigated the assessment methods dictated by Arizona Department of Education as part of an ongoing effort to improve achievement of English Language Learners (ELL) in the state. There is also a long running lawsuit in the state over funding for ELL programs. Plaintiff lawyers in that suit agreed to turn claims about the assessment methods over to the federal officials.

In late August, Arizona officials agreed to test students in four areas of proficiency — reading, writing, speaking and listening — and to continue to provide services until students meet standards in all four areas. The state had been ending services when students achieved proficiency based on a composite score of the four tests. In addition, the state will identify all students who were exited from services prior to achieving full proficiency and provide them with services until they reach proficiency.

The state has also come under fire from civil rights officials for using a home language survey to determine which students need ELL services. Attorney Tim Hogan, who represents the plaintiffs in the school funding case, has said all of these practices are designed to limit the number of ELL students and save the state money.

Although the state does not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, Arizona must now offer special reading and writing classes to an estimated 42,000 students to help them catch up. About 70,000 of the state’s 1.1 million students are classified as ELL. The federal government will be monitoring the state for an undetermined period.

Editor’s note: see previous RSFN coverage here.

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Read more from the September 2012 Rural Policy Matters.