It’s as clear as mud what kind of instruction schools will be giving English-language learners in Arizona in the coming school year. I didn’t have much luck sorting matters out at the school district level, so I went to Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, for the official word on what ELL classes might look like in the fall.
A bill passed by the Arizona legislature in March 2006 requires school districts to give ELLs at lower levels of proficiency four hours of English-language-development instruction each day. Up until this school year, when a state task force further spelled out what was to happen in those four hours, the four-hour mandate was largely ignored. According to a report by the Arizona Office of Auditor General released last month, only three school districts or charter schools out of a sample of 18 had implemented the program this school year.
But Mr. Horne has said that school districts must have the four-hour programs in place by the start of next school year.
But it’s still hard to predict what those programs will look like because the state task force and Mr. Horne are in the process of considering requests by school districts to carry out “alternative models.”
One point of confusion has been whether the four hours of English instruction must be divorced from the teaching of academic content. The task force—and Mr. Horne in a memo called “rumor control”—clarified that “classroom materials used in an [English-language-development] class may reflect content from a variety of academic disciplines.”
Could you call an ELD class “math” or “social studies?,” I asked Mr. Horne during a telephone interview this week. He said, “no,” that “the primary purpose has to be language development.” He added that English-learners can take math class during part of the two hours of the school day not occupied with ELD instruction.
Another point of confusion is whether ELLs must be separated from other students for the full four hours.
Mr. Horne said that some school districts with very small numbers of ELLs will be exempted from the mandate to keep the students separate. In addition, he said, a school district may be exempted from the requirement to separate ELLs for four hours if it has a high rate for reclassifying students as fluent in English each year. He said he hasn’t set a number for what is “high.” In Arizona, school districts reclassify ELLs as fluent in English if they pass the state’s English-language-proficiency test.
On average, Mr. Horne said, the reclassification rate in Arizona is 13 percent. “All I care about is getting the reclassification rate up,” he said, “I think a 13 percent reclassification rate is a scandal and we have a moral duty to teach these kids English.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.