Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Austin schools overlook 2,000 English language learners

This is truly tragic and it shows up on down the line in school ratings, poor scores, and dropout rates. One can’t help but wonder how extensive this problem may be in other areas of the state—or in other states with even less familiarity or history with this population.

Inasmuch as low accountability ratings and threatened school closures are mediated by the concentration of English language learners in schools, the impact of Texas and federal law adversely affects schools that are disproportionately comprised of culturally and linguistically diverse learners. This aspect of policy is unfair and should concern us.

Though this rapidly growing group is marginal to state policy and politics, it is hardly a marginal group from a demographic perspective. As our state demographer, Dr. Steve Murdock, predicts, however we fare with this population is precisely how we fare into the future both as a state and as a nation. Whatever one thinks about immigration, this community is here and it’s growing significantly. If we care for our state and nation, it’s time to place this “sub-population” at the center of policy development and educational reform. And this is no single entity’s task, but is rather something that all must attend to.


Austin schools overlook 2,000 English language learners
New database created to improve system caught discrepancy.

By Katie Humphrey
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A database created to help Austin school officials monitor students
who have limited English skills has revealed that as many as 2,000
were never evaluated to see whether they needed bilingual education or
English as a second language services.

About 20,000 students in the Austin district participate in bilingual
education or ESL.

State law requires the district to evaluate within 20 days the needs
of students who indicate that a language other than English is spoken
at home. Such students may qualify to take state achievement tests —
which they must pass for promotion in some grades — in Spanish.

The district launched the online Language Proficiency Assessment
System in January to streamline the tracking of students who have
limited English skills, which had previously been a paper-based

About six weeks ago, district officials realized that some students
who had said that a language other than English was spoken at home
were never tested. Officials are still determining the scope of the

"When we discovered this, we were all shocked and heartbroken," said
Martha García, executive director of bilingual education and ESL for
the district. "There are obvious moral and ethical implications — and
legal implications. But we also felt like we are on the right track
because we developed this system that showed us an error that was

García began working with the district to construct the database when
she became executive director two years ago. The database and improved
communication among campuses should ensure that the oversight won't
happen again, she said.

But some community groups, while praising García for uncovering the
problem, say the bilingual education and ESL programs need more
resources to make sure that students who need help get it.

Cynthia Valadez, Austin chapter representative of Mothers Against
Discriminatory Racism in Education and Society, is among those who
want the district to create an associate superintendent position to
deal with "special populations," including English language learners
and special education students.

Unidos de Austin, a coalition of local Hispanic advocacy groups, asked
administrators to investigate how students were left out and offer
additional services to the students so they can catch up.

There are 2,000 students who the district knows about because they are
still in school, but there could be many more if the problem has
existed for years or others have dropped out of school out of
frustration, Valadez said.

"AISD needs to do everything in their power to make sure that
(students) are brought up to speed," Valadez said. "This is not only
affecting their academic career; this is going to determine the
quality of life they are going to have outside AISD."

On the recommendation of the Texas Education Agency, the district is
determining whether the students were able to pass the Texas
Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. About 700 students who have not
passed the TAKS are being tested for possible inclusion in the
bilingual education or ESL programs, García said.

The school district has set a May 25 deadline to finish evaluating the
students so additional programs, such as tutoring or more classroom
assistance, can be allocated to help the students.

"We want to rectify this," García said. "We want to ensure that all
students get the best services that they can."; 445-3658

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