Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0926welcome25side.html

4 placement tests approved for use
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 26, 2003 12:00 AM

Michael Kiefer

School districts must ask students whether they speak a language other than English at home, whether they learned another language before learning English, and whether they speak that language more frequently than English.

If the answer is yes to any of those questions, the district must assess the students' proficiency in English, then place them either in regular classes or "sheltered immersion" English classes to work them into the mainstream student population as quickly as possible.

The state Department of Education specifies four standardized testing programs that districts may use.

"They're all tests of English proficiency," said Karen Henderson, English Language Learners coordinator for the Glendale Union High School District, "but they do not test academic knowledge or achievement of any sort.

"It's not perfect. But, frankly, I think that teachers who work with these students begin to understand that this is only one indication that we use for placement."

Most districts send evaluators to the schools rather than have the students visit a welcome center as at Phoenix Union High School District.

But just because a student is evaluated does not mean that he or she is labeled an "English Language Learner."

Last year, for example, Mesa Unified evaluated 6,000 students and placed about 4,000 in sheltered English classes.

Scottsdale also assessed about 4,000, of which 2,100 were deemed ELL. Glendale Union tested 3,500 and placed 932 in ELL classes. Paradise Valley tested 6,429 and sent 4,000 to intensive English classes.

Students are generally categorized as beginner, intermediate and advanced in proficiency.

How students are taught varies with their age.

"In the elementary level, they are placed in self-contained classrooms with one teacher," said Cathy Rivera, executive director of educational operations for Scottsdale Unified.

"At the middle and high school, it is an assigned class to their daily schedule."

Outside of their English instruction, ELL students at Scottsdale high schools take other classes with the regular student population.

Mesa and Paradise Valley offer sheltered content-area classes; that is, math or science classes made up entirely of English Language Learners.

Getting the students out of sheltered English classes is another matter altogether. The state law that resulted from Proposition 203, the English-only initiative of 2000, urges that students not spend more than a year in the classes. In reality, it can take as long as three years, experts say.