Texas State Legislator: Study the Data

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 01, 2008 1 min read
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Texas State Rep. Roberto Alonzo’s call for the legislature to form a task force to respond to U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice’s July 25 ruling on programs for English-language learners seems wise, though let me be clear that I’m not taking a stand in this blog on the ruling itself. Mr. Alonzo wrote yesterday in the Rio Grande Guardian (hat tip to Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas) that members of the Texas legislature must “be well-prepared, educated on the issue, and well-versed on the statistical data to help support and keep Judge Justice’s decision intact.”

Being educated on issues concerning ELLs and well-versed on the statistical data about their achievement is important for any legislator these days, given how the presence of such students in schools continues to grow.

Some observers of the Texas situation, who it seems to me DIDN’T closely look at data, recommended proposals this week for how Texas should improve its programs for English-language learners. Stafford Palmieri over at Flypaper was one of them. He wrote:

Here’s the problem, Texas: you let your students languish in bilingual classes until sixth grade. Only then, in seventh grade, do you re-label them ELL, test them in English, and then wonder why they all drop out and/or fail their tests. This is not an occasion for just instituting more monitoring programs. This calls for a serious overhaul of bilingual education. Why don’t you try instituting more support systems for students, transitioning them from bilingual to ELL starting in fourth or fifth grade, mixing English immersion with bilingual classes at younger ages, or even ending bilingual education in fourth grade or before. I can only hope Texas takes this golden court-ordered opportunity.

Data from the Texas Education Agency show that it’s not exactly on target to say that “only then, in 7th grade” are ELLs being tested in English. While the state makes tests available in Spanish for grades 3-6, most ELLs by far take state tests in English in 5th and 6th grades. Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the TEA, tells me the reason the number of ELLs being tested in Spanish tapers off is that “our students typically exit bilingual programs after three years.” (I’m still waiting for statistics from her that will verify that statement.)

Anyway, here are the numbers for ELLs who took Texas’ reading test this last school year, broken out for whether they took it in English or Spanish. (The number of ELLs taking the math test in Spanish similarly drops off in the higher elementary school grades.)

ELLs who took reading test in English:
Grade 3—53,963
Grade 4—45,572
Grade 5—35,552
Grade 6—30,654

ELLs who took reading test in Spanish
Grade 3—29,972
Grade 4—17,026
Grade 5—7,517
Grade 6—878

I’m glad that a legislator who may be involved in responding to the ruling by the judge, which TEA officials have said the state is likely to appeal, is suggesting that lawmakers should examine data about ELLs in making decisions about their education.

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