Advocates Seek Place for L.E.P. Students in Standards Movement
Advocates for the interests of language-minority students, like their counterparts in special education, have long been concerned that such students could be left behind by the movement toward national education standards and performance-based accountability.
Spurred by those concerns, an influential group of experts on the education of limited-English-proficient children, brought together in part by the Education Department, met here last week to inaugurate a series of discussions about how L.E.P. students fit into the standards-setting process envisioned in the "goals 2000: educate America act,'' the Clinton Administration's pending education-reform bill.
Many civil-rights advocates and experts on the education of L.E.P. children fear that such students' linguistic and cultural needs will be overlooked in implementing the legislation's core philosophy: that "all students'' should attain "world class'' academic standards. (See Education Week, June 2, 1993.)
"We need to be sure, as a department, how L.E.P. students will be impacted by Goals 2000 and standards,'' Eugene E. Garcia, the director of the office of bilingual education and minority languages affairs, said in an interview. "This meeting is an attempt to resolve those concerns so the intent of the standards can be met by L.E.P. students.''
Goals 2000, which could be signed into law as early as this week, would codify the national education goals and create a grant program supporting state and local reforms. Participating states must develop plans that include the setting of content and performance standards, as well as opportunity-to-learn standards or strategies, which are to explain how states would improve schools to help students meet the other standards.
The legislation does not specify how students with special needs--including L.E.P. and special-education students--will be expected to meet the standards.
In its effort to examine part of this question, OBEMLA has set aside about $40,000 to convene two more meetings of the same group of about 40 experts. They include many members of the Stanford Working Group, an influential group of academics and policymakers, as well as teachers and state and federal officials.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation also helped fund the meetings.
By the end of the third meeting, tentatively set for June, attendees hope to formulate guidelines on how states should develop and implement their standards with L.E.P. students' needs in mind, said one of the meeting's organizers, Diane L. August, the executive director of the Stanford Working Group.
They may also recommend federal research or technical-assistance activities.
With Goals 2000 nearing enactment, and many states already embarking on their education-reform plans, participants said they need to work quickly.
"It's too late to start talking about setting up task forces,'' said Delia Pompa, a consultant to the National Coalition of Advocates for Students. "We need to say [to states]: 'Here are some steps that need to be taken.'''
National organizations are developing content standards for what students should know, and performance standards to measure them against the content standards, in key subjects.
But the experts here were a long way last week from a consensus on how L.E.P. students should be assessed against the standards and what schools should do to insure that they have the same opportunity as students who are native English-speakers to meet them.
"Everyone wants L.E.P. students to achieve to the same standards as monolingual kids,'' Mr. Garcia said. "The issue is how to get those kids there ... how do we disseminate what [instructional practices] we know work.''
Participants in the meeting agreed educators should take into account L.E.P. students' linguistic and cultural backgrounds in assessing their performance. But they expressed a range of views about whether, and how much, methods of assessing these students should differ from those for other students.
They also disagreed about whether children who are not literate in any language should be exempted from assessments.
"I'm not sure it's O.K. for our kids to dance out something where other kids have to write on a subject'' to show mastery, Ms. Pompa said.
Assessment experts also noted that since there are relatively few well-tested alternative-assessment programs for L.E.P. students, making specific recommendations to states could be difficult.
Department officials noted that states will have to grapple with implementing Goals 2000 and fitting it in with their ongoing efforts to improve education for all students, not just L.E.P. students, Marshall S. Smith, the undersecretary of education, said in an interview.
While participants did not agree on how to instruct states, they said that both the model subject-matter standards set at the national level and the envisioned state standards should carry explicit statements recognizing L.E.P. students' needs, and that specialists in the education of such students should be consulted.
Ms. August said that none of the professional groups' proposed standards for various content areas, most of which are in draft stages, contain such a statement.
English-language-arts standards made such a reference, but the department has pulled its funding of that project, leaving its future uncertain. (See story, page 1.)