Amphi moves to aid non-English speakers
Feb. 26, 2004
By Colleen Sparks
Amphitheater Public Schools will add summer school classes and continue training teachers in ways to help non-English-speaking students since a group of district students scored below federal guidelines in one area of a standardized test.
The Amphitheater district failed to make "adequate yearly progress," according to the federal government.
The government gauges adequate yearly progress by evaluating test scores, attendance, graduation rates and the number of students who took Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards exam last spring.
The federal measure, one component of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, evaluates schools and districts in 144 separate categories, said Patrick Nelson, Amphi district associate superintendent.
For example, it measures students in grades three, five, eight and 10 in four categories: racial/ethnic, poverty status and English language learner status; and special education status in reading and math scores on AIMS, he said.
Tenth-graders in all those groups are also measured by graduation rates, he said.
The Amphi district received the label because its fifth-grade students who didn't learn English as a first language did not score high enough on the reading portion of the AIMS test in 2003, under the federal formula, Nelson said. That affected the entire district's rating, he said.
"It's something we take very seriously," Nelson said. "We're putting together a much larger summer school than we have in the past; certainly our English language learners will be a part of that.
"We're certainly focusing resources on supporting our English language learners."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Amphi is "a great school district" and the federal mark - or label - is not a good measurement of its success.
Horne urged people to look at the state's label system because it is "more comprehensive" than the federal label, and in the state system one area of weakness doesn't affect the entire label.
"The state labels are a fair and accurate measure of how they're doing," Horne said. "In the case of Amphi, the federal label is not a fair one.
"I'm hoping that Congress will reform No Child Left Behind. I'd like to see them defer to the state system."
Four of the Amphi district's schools received the highest state label - "excelling" - in 2003 and none were "underperforming."
The district hired a trainer about 2 years ago to show teachers how to help students whose first language is not English, said J. Andy Diaz, director of the language acquisition department in the Amphi district.
School districts cannot pull those English-learning students away from the rest of the classroom as their sole method of assisting them, under Proposition 203, Diaz said.
Voters approved Prop. 203 - also known as English only - in 2000, and it replaces most bilingual education programs with English immersion. The law says all students must be taught in English, and those lacking sufficient language skills must be enrolled in immersion programs.
Teachers who formerly taught English-as-a-second-language programs in the Amphi district, where students were usually pulled away from the traditional students before the proposition was passed, still work in the Amphi district, Diaz said. Now, though, they help students in the English immersion program and assist their teachers, Diaz said.
After-school and summer-school programs also help students learn English, he said.
Cecile Cohen, an English immersion teacher at Amphi's Keeling Elementary School, says it's hard for students who are learning English to perform well enough on the AIMS test to satisfy the federal government's requirements for making "adequate yearly progress."
"It takes five to seven years to learn a language," she said. "I think it's very difficult for a child to be expected to learn a language and perform on grade level in such a short time.
"These kids come in here and work so hard."
Diana Boros, mother of two students at Amphi's Canyon del Oro High School, says she also believes the federal government's guidelines are unfair.
"I think it indicates some of the problems with No Child Left Behind," Boros said. "Parents assess their children individually.
"When schools are lumped together like this, it creates a situation where you have highs and lows in assessment."
Children are "not a constant" and their performance on tests is affected by their physical and emotional well-being, she said.
"On the whole, Amphi is doing a good job with their students. I think Amphi has done a good job for my children.
"The quality of teachers they have had have more than met my expectations."
Contact reporter Colleen Sparks at 434-4076 or at