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New Calif. Rules Set Academic Goals in Bilingual Programs

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Sacramento, Calif--California's bilingual-education community won a major victory this month in its long effort to "raise standards" and to make it more difficult "to push students out of bilingual programs too quickly."

The victory came when the California State Board of Education voted 8 to 2 in favor of controversial regulations prepared by the state department of education to implement Assembly Bill 507, a law enacted in 1980 to redefine bilingual programs.

As a result, a department official said, "children will stay in the programs longer, but they will benefit more."

The new regulations prohibit the release of students from bilingual classes unless they can score at the 36th percentile or better on standardized tests of the English language, reading, and mathematics. They also provide that under certain conditions, including parental approval, students may move from bilingual classes to regular classes if they score between the 31st and 35th percentile on similar tests.

The rules, which affect 376,794 of the state's four million pupils in public elemen-tary and secondary schools, have caused bitter divisions on the board during the past year.

Information from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education and the Education Commission of the States indicates that California may be the only state in the nation to set such high and explicit "exit requirements" for pupils in bilingual-education programs.

Loud applause broke out from the leaders of the state's bilingual-education movement following the board's vote on the issue.

'Leadership and Assistance' Praised

Olivia Martinez, president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, praised Wilson C. Riles, state superintendent of public instruction, "for the leadership and assistance he and his staff provided" in getting the regulations prepared and approved. "It has been invaluable," she said.

"California," she added, "has not only learned to live with bilingual education but to embrace it as an effective instructional program."

The new regulations, she explained, should strengthen bilingual programs "by providing high standards in terms of what bilingual-education programs should look like, how they are organized, and how they serve children."

"When limited-English-proficient children are in a proper program," Ms. Martinez said, "they very easily attain the 36th-percentile rank."

Rebecca Baumann, senior lobbyist for the California School Boards Association (csba), disagreed. "We believe," she said, "that many children will never qualify for exit from the bilingual programs if the adopted regulations are implemented."

Marilyn Hammond, director of the Foundation for Education Administration of the Association of California School Administrators (acsa), was more specific. With the exit set at the 36th percentile, she said, "we are going to have one-third of our limited-English-proficient students in bilingual education forever."

People on all sides of the argument over the impact of the regulations agreed that they will cause students to remain in bilingual programs for a longer period of time before they move into regular classes. To Ms. Martinez, that is a favorable outcome because, in her opinion and in the opinion of many other bilingual educators, California schools tended to push limited-English proficient children out of bilingual programs before they were ready to learn effectively in English.

But Douglas Langdon, school-board president in the South Bay Union School District, said that keeping large numbers of children in bilingual programs longer will "undercut support for bilingual education and risk a legislative backlash."

In a report to the board, the state education department said that the recommendation of the 36th percentile "was made in 1979 and was based on the professional judgment of a state-appointed advisory committee on language reclassification. This group of 12 educators, administrators, and researchers examined the reclassification practices in selected California school districts."

"In addition," the department's report continues, "they reviewed the research then available which showed a positive correlation between proficiency in English and the ability to demonstrate academic skills by means of standardized achievement tests in English."

Lack of Flexibility

The two board members who voted against the regulations--Ann Leavenworth, the board's president, and Henry Alder, mathematics professor at the University of California at Davis--complained about the lack of flexibility for school districts under the rules.

Ms. Leavenworth and Mr. Alder were supported by Ms. Baumann of the school-boards association and Ms. Hammond of the administrators' group.

Ms. Hammond said: "Decision making should be in the hands of the parents, teachers, and principals, using all the material available on the student to determine when the child exits from the bilingual program, rather than focusing on a percentile score as a significant determinant in the exit criteria."

A spokesman for the state department of education told the state board of education before it voted that the regulations would cost only a total of $19,000 annually, statewide. But Ms. Baumann said, "Cost projections prepared by the department fail to provide the board members with an objective, accurate estimate of the fiscal impact of the regulations."

A spokesman for the Pasadena Unified School District said that the regulations "would result in $465,000 of additional unfunded costs" in his district.

"That's ridiculous," countered Ms. Martinez, of the bilingual-educators' group.

In addition to the standards for reclassification of bilingual students, the regulations also require school districts to:

Offer bilingual learning opportunities to each pupil with limited proficiency in English who is enrolled in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Control enrollment in bilingual classes, if possible, so that at least one-third, but no more than two-thirds, of the pupils in each bilingual class are fluent in English; they will be provided instruction in the primary language of the limited-English-proficient students.

Make certain that no principal teacher in grades K-6 is responsible for providing primary-language instruction to more limited-English-proficient students than there are students in the average class at that grade level; also make certain that the ratio of non-credentialed staff to credentialed staff does not exceed 1 to 1.

Make certain that students fluent in English who are assigned to bilingual classes are, whenever possible, at the average performance level in the district at that grade level.

Obtain the signature of a student's parent or guardian before moving him or her from a bilingual program. However, no written response is required to enroll either a fluent English or a limited-English-proficient pupil in a bilingual program.

Establish district advisory committees for bilingual education in each district with more than 50 pupils with limited proficiency in English, and establish school advisory committees for bilingual education in each school with more than 20 pupils who are limited-English-proficient.

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