By GRISELDA NEVAREZ
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX — State mandates on how school districts teach English language learners keep local officials from adopting systems that can most effectively address the needs of their students, a state lawmaker contends.
“To say that one size fits all sometimes may work, but sometimes it does not,” said Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista. “I think we need to look at alternatives so that children don’t fall behind.”
Gowan has introduced a bill that would allow districts to choose the currently required curriculum, which is produced by task force overseen by the state Department of Education, or develop their own English language learner programs at individual schools without seeking the task force’s approval.
HB 2537 would exempt districts only if a school is meeting or exceeding achievement requirements for English language learners under the No Child Left Behind Act or is classified as a high-performing or excelling school. A school would have to maintain that status for two straight years to keep the exemption.
Gowan’s bill recently won an endorsement from the House Education Committee and was heading to the floor by way of the Rules Committee.
The Arizona English Language Learners Task Force, which was created in 2007, offfers five English immersion programs, or models, based on the level of English language development needed at a public school or charter school. Districts can propose their own plans to the task force, but Michael Smith, a legislative consultant with the Arizona School Administrators Association, it’s tough to get approval.
“The task force has been pretty inflexible in helping schools deal with this,” he said.
Under the task force’s models, English language learners in their first year are immersed in four-hour blocks of intensive instruction on listening, speaking, writing and reading English. They eventually leave the program by passing tests on those four areas.
Gowan said that while the task force models have proven to work for some schools they don’t for all schools, especially those with higher and lower percentages of English language learners.
“Different regions need different models,” he said.
Gowan said the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District, where 95 percent of students are English language learners, won approval to tailor its curriculum and has since pushed its students’ English proficiency above the minimum set by No Child Left Behind.
“We are trying to be compliant with the task force and not get ourselves into trouble, but at the same time we know we can be doing a better job if we were allowed more flexibility,” Denise Blake, the district’s director of instructional support, said in a telephone interview.
John Stoller, the state Department of Education’s associate superintendent for accountability, said his agency supports offering districts and schools flexibility when it comes to English language learners.
“There are a number of varying situations that can occur with school districts, and we remain willing to explore options,” he said.
Lawmaker wants to give schools more flexibility on English learners
By GRISELDA NEVAREZ