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Published in Print: July 12, 2006, as New York, Arizona At Odds With Ed. Dept. Over English Testing

New York, Arizona At Odds With Ed. Dept. Over English Testing

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Federal education officials have told New York Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills that his state must change the way it tests English-learners or lose federal aid.

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Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Education, responded in an e-mail message to Education Week last week that state officials are willing to “arrive at a solution,” but that it is “premature to outline a solution now.”

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must include English-language learners in regular standardized assessments in reading and mathematics and use those scores in calculating schools’ and districts’ yearly progress toward statewide achievement goals.

During their first year in the United States, however, English-learners don’t have to take a state’s regular reading test, though they must take the regular math test and an English-language-proficiency test. In addition, states don’t have to include English-learners’ scores in reading and math in calculations of adequate yearly progress until the students’ second round of annual state testing.

New York, however, has continued to use its English-proficiency test, called the New York State ESL Achievement Test, or NYSESLAT, as a substitute for the state’s regular English-language-arts test for the second and third times that English-learners participate in statewide testing.

A June 27 letter from the U.S. Department of Education to Mr. Mills said that New York must stop that practice if it is to continue to receive its full amount of Title I funds. The federal department gave the state an “approval pending” rating for its assessment system because of how it uses the NYSESLAT for accountability and for an issue concerning how it assesses special education students. ("Department Raps States on Testing," this issue.)

The federal officials gave New York 25 business days from receipt of the letter to submit a plan for complying with the NCLB law for the 2006-07 school year. If the state doesn’t stick with its plan, the letter said, it will lose 10 percent of its Title 1, Part A, administrative funds, for fiscal 2006.

Arizona Issue

Meanwhile, Arizona state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is threatening to sue the U.S. government over another matter regarding English-language learners and accountability.

He maintains that the federal government made an oral agreement with Arizona that permits the state to exclude the test scores of English-learners in calculations of adequate yearly progress for the first three years the students are in U.S. schools.

“The big issue is keeping one’s promises,” Mr. Horne said in an interview. Arizona received a letter from the federal Education Department on June 30 approving the state’s assessment system. The letter added that such approval doesn’t resolve the dispute the federal government has with Arizona concerning how it is calculating adequate yearly progress for English-learners.

“We will continue to work to resolve that issue,” the letter said.

Vol. 25, Issue 42, Page 28

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