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Series Examines NCLB Applied to the Classroom


Cristina De León-Menjivar of the Napa Valley Register has written a series about how the Napa Valley Unified School District in California has responded to provisions for English-language learners under the No Child Left Behind Act. "Despite the district's solid record of success getting newcomers up to speed in English quickly," she writes, "overall that student population is a drag on the district's test scores."

I notice that some of the educators in the Napa Valley school district were adept in slipping into interviews their views about how they'd like to see the federal education law altered. For example, in the April 30 article, "Under Examination," Barbara Nemko, the county superintendent of schools, is quoted as saying that the federal government should consider "growth" in the progress of English-language learners "instead of setting an arbitrary standard" to judge how well schools are teaching such students.

The journalist notes that the school district is meeting the goal set by the state under Title III of NCLB for its English-language learners to improve one level of proficiency in English each year. That goal is measured by an English-language proficiency test--the California English Language Development Test. But the district isn't meeting goals set for those students when it comes to adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under Title I of the act.

The goal to improve one level of proficiency in English each year under Title III is an example of considering "growth." The AYP goals under Title I, by contrast, hold English-learners to the same benchmarks as all other students.

This aspect of the series illustrates a point that a California researcher, Robert Linquanti, made when I interviewed him recently for a story in Education Week. He said that in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, he'd like to see the goals under Title I for English-language learners structured more like they are under Title III. Mr. Linquanti is the project director and senior research associate for WestEd.

Title III contains provisions in the law specifically for English-language learners while Title I contains provisions for disadvantaged students.

"There’s a lot that Title I can learn from Title III that looks at kids wherever they are on the spectrum," Mr. Linquanti said.


Current NCLB requirements for English learners (limited English proficient students) to score proficient or advanced on standards tests in English are absurd.

Introducing a growth standard might help, but asking all kids to meet a standard for English reading proficiency while they are NOT proficient is like asking all four-year olds going to Disneyland to meet the height standard for thrill rides before they have grown up!

Get a grip everyone! The current system measures English learners before they have mastered English. Secretary Spellings wants to allow schools to count them for only one year after they have mastered the English language.

This system is about as helpful as calling short kids "short," and not measuring their height after they turn five years old. The average height of the group is still "short".

A better way to hold kids, parents, and schools accountable is to introduce a number of reforms: ensure that each state make reasonable use of tests in the primary language (This IS feasible for Spanish, the language of 400 million people world-wide, and the language of most English learners in this country.); make use of valid test accommodations in English; use a growth model for English learners -- and others; and keep former English learners in the subgroup for analysis in perpetuity.

Without these reforms, NCLB will keep coming up short for millions of kids in our schools, and those schools will increasingly be labeled as failures by an invalid federal accountability system.

Norm Gold is right. If English learners scored as well as fluent English speakers, they would not be classified as English learners. In a speech in Texas last year, Kathleen Leos, Director the Office of English Language Acquisition in the US Dept of Education, reported on a study that said that 87% of English-learners scored below grade level on a test of English reading. I think this means that at least 13%, those that scored at grade level or above, were misclassified as English learners.

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