Tests show non-English speaking children may need more than
one year of instruction
June 16, 2005
By Ken Maguire, Writer |
BOSTON --Most children who don't speak English as their first language may need
more than one year of English-only instruction before they move to regular
classrooms, according to test results released Thursday.
Voter-approved state law says those students should be sent to mainstream
classes after one year of "English immersion," but the first statewide test
results released since the law took effect in the fall of 2003 indicatemost are
State and federal laws require schools to assess the English proficiency of all
students who are identified as "limited English proficient" innearly every
grade. They are tested for English skills in reading, writing, speaking and
About 31,000 of the state's nearly 50,000 LEP students were tested lastfall and
again this spring.
Just 10 percent of first-year LEP students in grades three and four were
classified at the "transitioning" level -- basic fluency -- after the spring
test. Thirty percent of the second-year students in those grades were deemed
fluent and ready to be sent to mainstream classrooms.
Other grade levels were statistically similar, while high schoolers scored
higher after their first year (18 percent at basic fluency) and secondyear (28
The one-year-and-out law replaced the nation's first-ever bilingual education
program, which kept children in native-language instruction classroomsfor
several years. Critics said these mostly urban, low-income childrensuffered in
the long term.
"There are some children who can transition in one year but those are
exceptional cases," said Jose M. Pinheiro, Brockton Public Schools'director of
bilingual education. "Students who have been here for three years dobetter than
State education Commissioner David Driscoll said he's not convinced the
one-year-and-out philosophy works.
"That bears some watching," he said. "I'm not sure where statistically how true
that is. Over time, hopefully we'll start to see the progress and we can bring
data to that question."
Driscoll said it's too soon, however, to draw conclusions.
"The reason that it's hard to talk about whether immersion is working versus the
old system is that we now have this strong system of standards and assessments
that we didn't have under the previous system."
Over time, he said, the immersion philosophy will prove to be more successful.
"I think it's working. More kids are making progress," he said. "(But) We don't
have the data."
Not every child who took the fall test also took the spring test, but there's "a
pretty big overlap," said Kit Viator, the state Department of Educations's
director of student assessment.
Driscoll has said he won't force districts to move a child out of English
immersion at the end of a year, out of concern it may violate a child'sfederal
The mandated testing is just one measure -- grades and teacherobservations are
others -- local districts use in determining whether to move a childinto regular
classrooms. Districts are being encouraged to make thosedecisions this summer.
Districts receive extra state and federal funds for the number of students
classified as LEP, Driscoll noted.
"The system ought to encourage movement," he said.
Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, the financial force behind theballot
initiative in Massachusetts -- and in California and Arizona --criticized the
"The schools get more money," he said. "If they move them into a regular
classroom, they get less money."
Unz said classifications aren't as important as academic results. Nearly80
percent of LEP students passed the MCAS high school exit exam in 2004,for
Fifty-five percent of the state's LEP students speak Spanish as theirfirst
language, followed by 9 percent speaking Portuguese. Khmer, HaitianCreole,
Vietnamese, Chinese, Cape Verdean, Russian and Arabic are among otherfirst