English-Language Learners

New Arizona Chief Clamps Down on Bilingual Rules

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 26, 2003 2 min read
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Arizona state schools Superintendent Tom Horne has tightened up the rules governing how and when districts can provide bilingual education to students. His move carries out a campaign promise to enforce more strictly a law curtailing bilingual education that Arizona voters approved in 2000.

“He promised to enforce it where previous administrations had not,” Amy Rezzonico, Mr. Horne’s press secretary, said last week of the schools chief’s fall campaign pledge.

The new guidelines, spelled out in a Feb. 12 letter to school administrators, will go into effect at the start of the 2003-04 school year.

Under the law—adopted through the Proposition 203 ballot initiative that was implemented in the 2001-02 school year—school districts must teach all students who aren’t fluent in English in English-immersion classes, unless their parents have requested waivers for them.

Districts can grant waivers under the law only to students “who already know English,” “older children,” or students who have “special individual needs.”

Proponents and opponents of bilingual education agree that the Arizona Department of Education did not previously provide adequate guidelines to define those categories.

The new guidelines set cutoff scores for various tests that districts use to determine students’ English skills. They say, for instance, that districts may grant waivers only if students score at least a 4 out of a possible 5 on the Language Assessment Scales-Oral, or LAS-O.

Earlier, the 63,000-student Tucson school district, for example, decided that a child already knew English if he or she scored a 3 on the LAS-O. It granted 3,444 waivers of the English-immersion rule this school year to students who met that cutoff score. Some students, though, elected not to use the waivers if it meant changing schools.

District Views

Both before and after passage of Proposition 203, Tucson has run the largest bilingual education program in Arizona.

The state-determined cutoff scores will alone have a “major impact” on the number of students who can be offered bilingual education, Tucson Superintendent Stan Paz said. Currently, the district provides bilingual education to 2,805, or 28 percent, of its 9,953 English-language learners.

“We lost the public relations battle on bilingual education a long time ago,” added Mr. Paz. “Now with accountability, we don’t have time to debate. I’m telling my staff to please focus on giving the students the English skills as soon as possible.”

Margaret Garcia Dugan, an administrator for the 14,000-student Glendale district who was active in the campaign to pass Proposition 203, praised Mr. Horne for making it harder for districts to grant English-immersion waivers for students.

She said that some school districts have deemed students competent in English even though, according to the test publishers’ definitions, their scores on English tests showed they still had limited proficiency.

Now, she said, “if you’re fluent [in English], you can go into bilingual education, and not until.”

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