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Arizona's ELL Program Draws Federal Scrutiny Once Again

The Arizona Department of Education and federal officials are working to resolve a complaint that alleges the state's program for teaching English-language learners is unfair to the students, the Arizona Capital Times reports.

The newspaper reports that federal authorities have been investigating the program since 2010 after a complaint alleged that the state's required four hours of daily instruction illegally segregates students who don't speak English, limiting their access to other courses.

Arizona Department of Education Chief of Staff Michael Bradley told the Capital Times that both sides agree students should spend less time in English-immersion classes as their skills improve, but disagree over how to determine when to cut back.

Arizona education leaders have often been at loggerheads with federal officials over the rights of the state's English-language learners.

In the latest case, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice want the state to use testing to determine when fewer hours in English-immersion classes are necessary and require the state to hire an auditor for the state's English-only immersion program. But the state wants teachers to decide a student's progress and when it is time to reduce the amount of instruction, the Capitol Times reports.

In December, Arizona's state board of education voted to allow schools to cut the hours of instruction in half for second-year ELL students who are improving, the newspaper reports.

The struggle over the state's English-language-learner program is also playing out in court. Flores v. Arizona, a 22-year-old lawsuit challenging the state's requirement that ELLs spend more than half their school day learning English, is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In August 2012, the U.S. departments of Justice and Education reached an agreement with Arizona's education department over the state's rush to move students out of its program for language-learners.

As part of the settlement, Arizona agreed to offer targeted reading and writing instruction to tens of thousands of students who were denied services.

The deal resolved a complaint filed with the Education Department's office of civil rights and the Justice Department that students had been incorrectly identified as fluent in English or prematurely moved out of language assistance programs.

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