Testimony on ELLs and the “Discussion Draft”

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 12, 2007 2 min read
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I’ve been out of the office for a couple of days, so it’s only now that I draw your attention to testimony by various organizations before the House Education and Labor Committee regarding provisions for English-language learners proposed in a “discussion draft” for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act.

Two civil rights groups—the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund—seem to have had the ear of members of Congress shaping reauthorization issues for ELLs all along, so it’s not surprising that representatives from those groups testified on Sept. 10 in favor of the draft proposals. See testimony from Peter Zamora, the Washington regional counsel for MALDEF, and Delia Pompa, the vice president of educational programs for National Council of La Raza. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on the support of these groups in an article yesterday.

In his testimony, Mr. Zamora praises how the discussion draft requires states that don’t have appropriate assessments for ELLs to set aside 16.5 percent of their state assessment funds to create them. He also voices his support for penalties for states that don’t craft valid and reliable assessments for ELLs within two years after NCLB is reauthorized. Ms. Pompa generally supports draft provisions for ELLs in her testimony, but suggests that one proposed provision be changed. Instead of requiring states to create assessments in students’ native languages for any group of students with a common language who make up one-tenth of a state’s ELL population, she says that states should be required to create native-language assessments for language groups that make up one-tenth of the state’s total student population.

Billy Cannaday, the superintendent of public instruction for Virginia, said little about the proposed provisions for ELLs in his testimony except to say that Virginia would like more flexibility in how it assesses such students under the federal education law. Several of Virginia’s school districts protested long and hard last school year what they viewed as a lack in flexibility, before giving in to a mandate for how to test ELLs from the U.S. Department of Education.

The people chosen by the committee to testify were much more supportive of the proposed provisions for ELLs than U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has been. (See my earlier post.) Ms. Spellings wrote a letter to the House Education and Labor Committee criticizing draft proposals for ELLs, but hasn’t testified before the committee regarding the discussion draft.

I guess we’ll see in the final bill who has the most sway with the committee.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.