Friday, June 17, 2005

Tests Show Non-English Speaking Children May Need More than One Year of Instruction

Research is quite conclusive that English language immersion for linguistic minority children is submersion. Massachusetts could have avoided these pitfalls by knowing about the experience of Mexicans in Texas. Texas is the site for this grand experiment of English-only. It was against the law to teach Spanish for the greater part of the last century. An important work in this regard is the award winning, recently published book, THE STRANGE CAREER OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION IN TEXAS, written by Texas A & M colleague, Carlos K. Blanton. What resulted from this experiment? Extreme academic failure from which the Mexican American community has never quite recovered. I don't mean to say that Mexicans haven't made progress, but rather that progress is a moving target with the gap with Anglos remaining relatively constant. As my other recent posts on assimilation and language suggest, we seem as a nation destined to always be repeating history primarily due to the structured ignorance of the powerful.


By Ken Maguire, Associated Press Writer | June 16, 2005

BOSTON --Most children who don't speak English as their first language may
need more than one year of English-only instruction before they move to regular
classrooms, according to test results released Thursday.

Voter-approved state law says those students should be sent to mainstream
classes after one year of "English immersion," but the first statewide test
results released since the law took effect in the fall of 2003 indicate most are
not ready.

State and federal laws require schools to assess the English proficiency of
all students who are identified as "limited English proficient" in nearly every
grade. They are tested for English skills in reading, writing, speaking and

About 31,000 of the state's nearly 50,000 LEP students were tested last fall
and again this spring.

Just 10 percent of first-year LEP students in grades three and four were
classified at the "transitioning" level -- basic fluency -- after the spring test.
Thirty percent of the second-year students in those grades were deemed fluent
and ready to be sent to mainstream classrooms.

Other grade levels were statistically similar, while high schoolers scored
higher after their first year (18 percent at basic fluency) and second year (28

The one-year-and-out law replaced the nation's first-ever bilingual education
program, which kept children in native-language instruction classrooms for
several years. Critics said these mostly urban, low-income children suffered in
the long term.

"There are some children who can transition in one year but those are
exceptional cases," said Jose M. Pinheiro, Brockton Public Schools' director of
bilingual education. "Students who have been here for three years do better than
the others."

State education Commissioner David Driscoll said he's not convinced the
one-year-and-out philosophy works.

"That bears some watching," he said. "I'm not sure where statistically how
true that is. Over time, hopefully we'll start to see the progress and we can
bring data to that question."

Driscoll said it's too soon, however, to draw conclusions.

"The reason that it's hard to talk about whether immersion is working versus
the old system is that we now have this strong system of standards and
assessments that we didn't have under the previous system."

Over time, he said, the immersion philosophy will prove to be more

"I think it's working. More kids are making progress," he said. "(But) We
don't have the data."

Not every child who took the fall test also took the spring test, but there's
"a pretty big overlap," said Kit Viator, the state Department of Educations's
director of student assessment.

Driscoll has said he won't force districts to move a child out of English
immersion at the end of a year, out of concern it may violate a child's federal
civil rights.

The mandated testing is just one measure -- grades and teacher observations
are others -- local districts use in determining whether to move a child into
regular classrooms. Districts are being encouraged to make those decisions this

Districts receive extra state and federal funds for the number of students
classified as LEP, Driscoll noted.

"The system ought to encourage movement," he said.

Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, the financial force behind the ballot
initiative in Massachusetts -- and in California and Arizona -- criticized the
funding system.

"The schools get more money," he said. "If they move them into a regular
classroom, they get less money."

Unz said classifications aren't as important as academic results. Nearly 80
percent of LEP students passed the MCAS high school exit exam in 2004, for

Fifty-five percent of the state's LEP students speak Spanish as their first
language, followed by 9 percent speaking Portuguese. Khmer, Haitian Creole,
Vietnamese, Chinese, Cape Verdean, Russian and Arabic are among other first

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