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Arizona Agrees to Stop Monitoring Teacher Fluency

With a possible civil-rights lawsuit looming on the horizon, Arizona officials have agreed to stop monitoring the speech of English-language learner teachers from the state level.

Almost exactly one year ago we reported on this blog that the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice had launched an investigation into whether Arizona was discriminating against teachers whose first language wasn't English. According to an article published this week by The Arizona Republic, the investigation began after an unnamed party filed a complaint alleging some teachers with accents were being removed from their classrooms.

In 2007, state officials found teachers in nine districts out of the 32 monitored to have "unacceptable pronunciation and grammar," the article stated.

Andrew LeFevre, the spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the state was never monitoring teachers' fluency or accents. "It was about grammar, pronunciation, and syntax," he argued.

Mr. LeFevre contends that, although the teachers were reported for these language issues, no teacher was ever fired due to the reports, but rather it was suggested that they take extra classes to improve their handle on the English language.

On Monday, the federal departments said they would halt their investigation and civil-rights lawsuit, following word from Arizona state officials saying that they would turn the monitoring over to the school districts and charter schools. The Arizona Department of Education will remove the fluency section from classroom monitors' forms and it's now up to the districts and charters to assess and report teacher fluency to the state.

The practice of sending monitors into random ELL classrooms to observe teachers' speech began in Arizona after the the federal No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in 2002.

Arizona assumed it had the authority to monitor teachers' language proficiency under Title III, which deals with ELLs, Mr. LeFevre said. But once the federal government issued guidance on the issue clarifying that states did not have this authority, Arizona school officials agreed to end the practice.

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