U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings doesn’t like some of the provisions for English-language learners in a preliminary proposal by leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee for reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. (See previous post, here.) In a letter she sent today to Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from California who is chairman of the committee, she criticized the proposal that school districts could let English-language learners take tests in their native language for up to five years, with the option of extending that time by two more years on a case-by-case basis. “That’s simply too long; this would allow a 3rd grade student to reach the 10th grade before ever being tested in English,” Ms. Spellings wrote.
Let me note that the example Ms. Spellings gives would refer to a 3rd grader who arrived in U.S. schools in 3rd grade, not a 3rd grader who had enrolled in U.S. schools in kindergarten, as I interpret the committee’s draft. The time frame starts when a child first begins attending U.S. schools.
Ms. Spellings implies that the proposed provision to extend the time frame for using native-language tests is an incentive to “slow down” the learning of English rather than speed it up. I’m expecting that some bilingual education advocates might address that observation by saying there’s nothing wrong with slowing down the learning of English, as long as a child learns English well over the long haul of his or her school career. And if the child receives bilingual education—and can take tests in his or her native language—he or she could well end up having a good command of two languages instead of just English.
In general, Ms. Spellings contends the proposed changes in accountability for students with disabilities and ELLs will exclude more students from accountability and “allow them to be held to lower standards.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.