Many school districts appear to be routinely withholding Chapter 1 services from students from disadvantaged backgrounds if the students also happen to be of limited English proficiency, according to a report released by the U.S. Education Department.
As a result of inadequate evaluation procedures and misinterpretations of federal regulations, school districts tend to be less likely to identify children from poor backgrounds as eligible for Chapter 1 services if those students have not learned to speak English well, the report contends.
'!he study, issued this month by the department’s office of policy and planning, urges schools to improve coordination between Chapter 1 and other programs serving the needs of L.E.P. students. It also calls on the department, states, and districts to do more to encourage and assure the enrollment of eligible L.E.P. students in Chapter 1 programs.
Mary Jean LeTendre, the director of compensatory-education programs for the Education Department, said last week that her office makes it “very clear” that districts do not have to wait until students are proficient in English before assessing them for Chapter 1 services. The report shows that many districts wait until that time and thus deny Chapter 1 services to eligible students.
James J. Lyons, the executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, said the report indicates that Chapter 1 is not working in a way that benefits L.E.P. students. He urged the “comprehensive, critical rethinking” of how the federal program operates.
“Most of the problem is associated with the way Chapter 1 eligibility requirements are written, which attempt to draw a distinction between being limited-English-proficiency and being educationally deprived,” Mr. Lyons said. “I think it is time to scrap that artificial and illusory distinction.”
The study, conducted under contract by Westat Inc. of Rockville, Md., was based on case studies of 14 districts in six states done in 1990.
Its findings are expected to be incorporated into a Congressionally mandated national assessment of the Chapter 1 program. The report will assist the Education Department in formulating guidelines for school districts in providing Chapter 1 services to L.E.P. students.
One of the issues addressed by the researchers was the Chapter 1 rule that stipulates that L.E.P. students are eligible to be served by the program only if their needs stem from educational deprivation and are not solely related to their limited English proficiency.
The requirement, the study notes, puts educators in the difficult position of having to decide whether a child’s low test scores are a result of L.E.P. status or are due to some other cause, such as limited schooling.
Limited-English-proficient students tend to be more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They often are immigrants who arrive in the United States with a lack of formal schooling.
The study found that, of the six states involved-which together enrolled about 45 percent of the nation’s 1.74 million L.E.P. student&-few “made more than modest efforts” to inform their districts that such students can be served under Chapter 1.
“Coordination between Chapter 1 and language services for L.E.P. students is rare at the state level; the two programs exist separately with different histories and agendas,” the study indicates.
None of the districts examined had adequate procedures for determining which L.E.P. students should receive Chapter 1 services, the report says. Many relied heavily on the judgment of teachers, asking them to decide whether given students were able to take an English-language achievement test or whether the students for whom no tests were available were eligible for Chapter 1.
Several districts considered students with low scores on English proficiency tests to be ineligible for Chapter 1 reading and math services and therefore did not assess them for Chapter 1.
The study suggests that the degree to which Chapter 1 services were provided to L.E.P. students depended heavily on a district’s choice between two common perspectives.
Many educators, it explains, operated on the assumption that pupils must attain English proficiency before their other needs could be adequately diagnosed and addressed. Such educators waited for them to reach a prescribed level of English.
proficiency before assessing them for Chapter 1, even though the pupils often could not meet the English requirement until they had reached the later grades, where Chapter 1 services are seldom provided.
The other common perspective, the report says, held that the need for compensatory education can be addressed regardless of English proficiency, and that L.E.P. students can simultaneously be provided with language services and Chapter 1 services if needed.
The report is available without charge from the U.S. Education Department, Office of Policy and Planning, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Room 3127, Washington, D.C. 20202; (202) 401-0590.
A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1992 edition of Education Week as L.E.P. Students Denied Remedial Help, Study Finds