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Arizona May Provide More Flexibility for Its ELL Program

The number two education official at the Arizona Department of Education has asked Arizona's task force charged with recommending policies for educating English-language learners to consider some changes in the state's controversial four-hour program, the official has told me.

For two school years, the state has mandated that all ELLs be taught discrete English skills for four hours each day. The state also requires that ELLs should continue to receive that four-hour block of English until they can pass the state's English-language proficiency test. (Parents, however, can ask for ELLs to be removed from the program and assigned only to mainstream classes.)

Margaret Garcia Dugan, the deputy superintendent of public instruction for the Arizona Department of Education, told me that at a meeting of the task force yesterday, she asked the panel to review possible educational approaches for educating ELLs if they are not successful in testing as fluent in English after spending one year in the four-hour program. She's not suggesting that any changes be made to the program for the first year that an ELL student spends in it.

Yesterday, nine research studies were released by the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, that are mostly critical of Arizona's four-hour program. I reported in EdWeek how researchers said some teachers estimate many ELLs will spend three or four years in the program before being able to test out. That raises questions about how they'll be able to earn enough credits at the high school level to be able to graduate on time.

Dugan told me yesterday in a phone interview that she's fine with students' graduating in five years. And she thinks that if the program is implemented with fidelity, ELLs should be able to learn enough English to succeed in mainstream classrooms after two years with the four-hour block.

Nevertheless, she said she does see how some flexibility on the amount of hours ELLs spend learning English during the second year they spend in the program might be warranted. Hence her proposal to the task force.

Dugan reported to me both by e-mail and in a voice-mail message last evening that she's asked the task force to invite practitioners to present possible instructional models for ELLs who have reached at least an intermediate level of English proficiency but have not tested as fluent in English after one year with special help to learn English. She said the process of program review would start in September and would focus on how ELLs in middle and high school are being served.

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