Phoenix pupils may lose extra help in classes
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 22, 2005

Students perform too well on tests indicating their English proficiency

Anne Ryman
Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8072.

Hundreds of Phoenix students who are learning English are expected to lose extra help this fall because a new state test shows they can read and write English.

Across the state, students are passing a new state test that says they are proficient in English in significantly larger numbers than previous years, school officials say.

While it may sound good that more kids are passing, educators say the test is simply easier than previous ones. They worry that some kids aren't ready and may flounder without special services.

If students test as proficient in English, they no longer qualify for the English-language learner program. The program provides services such as trained teachers, extra materials and after-school tutoring.

"It's not giving us a true picture of proficiency for students," said Cindy Segotta-Jones, director of language acquisition for the Cartwright Elementary School District. She said about 2,200 Cartwright students passed the language test, nearly double the usual rate.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the new test is an accurate measure of whether students are proficient in English.

Proficient means the student can speak, understand, read and write enough English to function in a regular classroom. Horne said the criticisms boil down to money. Some school districts don't want to lose the extra money, about $350 a year per English-language learner, he said.

He said some schools have kept students designated as English-language learners for years because it means more money.

Arizona school districts used to have the choice of one of four language tests, but the federal government now requires states to select one test for consistency. Arizona chose the Stanford English Language Proficiency Test,along with several other states.

Students who pass the test are monitored for two years and can be pulled back into the program, with parental permission. Also, many schools offer after-school tutoring, summer school and other programs to help students learn English. Those programs are not tied to the new test.

Students who are no longer eligible for the English-learner program in the fall will receive a letter home informing their parents.

Arizona has about 160,000 English-language learners in school, with Spanish being the predominant language.

Federal law requires that schools test these students every year and provide intensive language services for those who don't pass. In past years, about 10 percent of Arizona's English-language learners tested proficient each year.

Statewide figures for the new language test won't be available until after July 31. But many school districts already know their scores.

In the Murphy Elementary School District, 220 students are declared proficient, up from 31 last year. Gloria Rivera, who oversees language services for the Murphy district, worries that students will be taken out of the program too soon.