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Report: Ariz. Districts Fall Short on Carrying Out ELL Program

Three years after Arizona required that school districts provide all English-language learners with four hours of instruction each day in English skills, nearly two-thirds of districts have not fully implemented the program, according to a state report. The state's model calls for ELLs to be separated into classes in which they learn grammar and other discrete English skills for four hours each day until they are able to pass the state's English-language-proficiency test.

The Arizona office of the auditor general released a report this week that found 63 percent of 73 school districts that were reviewed hadn't put in place all the components of the ELL program. The report said 45 percent of the districts reviewed didn't provide four hours of instruction and 38 percent didn't teach English grammar. A quarter of the districts didn't group ELLs by their proficiency levels, as required by the state. And 27 percent of districts didn't have qualified ELL teachers.

The Arizona Department of Education has been sending corrective-action letters to the districts it has monitored right and left, according to the report, but it has not yet enforced compliance with the ELL mandate by withholding funds to school districts. The law gives it the right to withhold state money designated for ELL programs.

The report recommends that the Arizona Department of Education start reporting the school districts that aren't in compliance to the state board of education for the possible cutting off of funds.

Supporters of Arizona's four-hour model say it gives ELLs a chance to focus on learning English so they can then go on to learn academic content successfully. Critics say that the teaching of academic content and English acquisition should be integrated and the four-hour model deprives ELLs of access to the core curriculum.

The debate over the effectiveness of the four-hour model is central to a federal court case, Flores v. Arizona, that was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and then handed back to a U.S. district court in the state for further consideration. The federal judge presiding over that case could release a ruling on it any day.

The state auditor general's report concluded that it couldn't determine the effect of the four-hour ELL program on student achievement because "data is either unavailable or unreliable." For example, the report says student test data can't be compared from one year to the next because the state's English-language-proficiency test changed over the time that the four-hour model was carried out.

Another complicating factor in evaluating the effectiveness of Arizona's ELL program is that the federal Education and Justice departments found fault with Arizona for reclassifying ELLs as fluent in English even if they don't pass all sections of the state's English-language-proficiency test. The Arizona Department of Education and the federal Education and Justice departments are still negotiating how to resolve the matter.

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