Arizona, Federal Government Settle Dispute Over English-Language Learners
At the behest of the federal government, the Arizona Department of Education will take steps to correct civil rights violations that have affected thousands of K-12 English-language learners.
The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education found that, since the 2012-13 school year, the state has failed to properly identify English-learners and prematurely labeled others as fluent in English, cutting off their access to language-assistance programs.
The settlements—one that addresses the needs of students in third through 12th grade and another for kindergarten students—with the federal government require the state to raise its standards for the reading and writing tests its uses to determine English proficiency. The federal government found that the current cut scores were "too low and failed to identify and prematurely exited tens of thousands of ELLs."
The state must also ensure that districts offer language-support services to thousands of students who were prematurely moved out of programs or incorrectly identified as English proficient.
The settlements arise out of federal officials' monitoring of a 2012 agreement with the state that aimed to resolve the persistent under-identification of English-learners and their removal from ELL services.
Arizona's approach to teaching English to second-language learners has faced increased scrutiny, not just from the federal government, but from researchers as well.
A fall 2015 report from the Regional Education Laboratory at WestEd found that 90 percent of Arizona's K-12 English-language learners were reclassified as English-proficient within six school years. Despite that success, just 18 percent of the state's ELL high school students graduate within four years; that's the lowest rate in the nation.