Feds Settle With Arizona in Dispute Over ELL Programs

By Debra Viadero — March 25, 2011 1 min read
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The U.S. departments of Justice and Education have put out the word today that they’ve reached a settlement with Arizona education officials in a dispute over the state’s programs for English-language learners.

In letters mailed to state officials over the summer, federal civil rights officials said they had determined that some of the practices the state uses to identify and serve ELL students violate federal law. They cited two practices in particular: the surveys schools and districts give to parents to initially identify students to be tested for ELL services, and the process by which ELLs are reclassified as fluent in English.

The press release, issued late Friday afternoon by the Education Department, focuses on the Home Language Survey. It notes that, before July 2009, the state used three questions to screen potential ELL students for testing. They were:

  • “What is the primary language used in the home regardless of the language spoken by the student?”
  • “What is the language most often spoken by the student?”
  • “What is the language that the student first acquired?”

State officials changed the survey that year, however, to ask only about students’ primary language. After the change, the number of ELL students being served across the state dropped by 33,000 from the previous year, to 100,000, according to federal officials. They said the one-question survey was at least partly to blame because it failed to identify eligible students.

Under the terms of the settlement, the state agreed to go back to using the three-question survey. State educators will also be required to refer a student for testing if a parent’s response to any of those questions is in Spanish. The Arizona Department of Education also agreed to drop a teacher-referral process that federal officials said was unnecessarily delaying services to students.

Mary Ann has written extensively on this investigation, as well as a court case, known as Horne v. Flores, that also centers on the state’s ELL programs. No doubt she will weigh in with a more authoritative interpretation when she’s back in the office.

CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to say that the reduction in the number of students identified after the change from three questions to one was 33,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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