Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lawmakers seek to loosen No Child rules for students learning English

By Nancy Zuckerbrod
August 28, 2007

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers rewriting the No Child Left Behind law want to loosen testing rules for students with limited English skills.

Senior lawmakers on the House Education Committee circulated a proposal Tuesday that would change the way students who are learning English are tested.

The law requires all students to be tested in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. Schools face increasingly tough consequences if students fail to meet annual progress goals.

The proposal being circulated would allow states to measure how well students first learning English are doing at acquiring language skills instead of judging them on standard reading tests. The substitute test would only be allowed, however, for two years after the law is enacted.

During that time, states would be expected to develop alternative tests for limited-English speakers – such as tests using simplified English.

The proposal would encourage states to develop foreign-language reading and math tests, and it would allow students to be tested in their native language for five years instead of three.

School officials nationwide have complained it makes no sense to give subject-area tests in English to students who don't know how to read English well.

However, not everyone likes the proposed change.

That would take the pressure off schools to get kids up to speed quickly in English, says Amy Wilkens, vice president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for poor and minority kids.

“It's too long,” she said. “That seems to me a terrible disservice to those kids and these families.”

The House proposal also would be changed to treat schools that fail to meet annual goals by a little differently from those that fail to meet such goals by a lot.

And schools would get some credit toward annual progress goals for tests other than those in reading and math. For example, schools could get credit for student performance on history, civics and science exams as well as for graduation rates.

The House bill is expected to formally be introduced in the next few weeks.

The proposal was circulated Tuesday by Education Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., and the committee's ranking Republican, California Rep. Buck McKeon.

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