Lawmakers push to exempt English language learners from standardized test scores

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Capital News Service
LANSING-Some Michigan lawmakers want to omit English language learners’ test scores from public school districts’ annual standardized test results.
State Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, recently introduced a resolution to prevent Michigan public school districts with significant numbers of students in their English as a Second Language programs from experiencing a significant decrease in their test scores. He believes that this could unnecessarily target some schools as failing.
The resolution urges the  U.S. Congress to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to save students and school districts from being labeled as failing.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools that do not meet the standards of adequate yearly progress on standardized tests by 2014 could face a series of consequences. By the sixth year of underperformance, a school is at risk of being closed, turned into a charter school or run by the state officials.
Michigan lawmakers want Congress to amend the law to allow the scores of English language learners in primary and secondary schools to be excluded for up to three years or until a student demonstrates a score of at least 50 percent on an English-language proficiency test.
“We are not trying to back away from accountability on high educational standards, or relax the standards for anyone,” Townsend said. “We just don’t want to portray students or school districts as failing when they are just trying to adequately serve a different sector of the population.”
The resolution has not yet been debated by Michigan lawmakers.Townsend says he is unsure if it will attract  opposition as it is largely a bipartisan effort.
Since former president George W. Bush created the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, English as a Second Language students have had to prove satisfactory yearly progress on standardized tests such as the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test. The difficulty of learning a new language, combined with decreased educational funds given for English as a Second Language programs, has persuaded some lawmakers to call out against penalizing English language learners for low test scores.
The number of English language learners in school districts across Michigan has more than doubled in 10 years. The U.S. Department of Education reported 71,809 students enrolled in English learning programs in 2008–compared to just 35,328 in 1998.
In the Sturgis public school district, 17 percent of the student population includes non-native English speakers.
“Getting (English as Second Language) teachers is hard and expensive,” said state Rep. Lesia Liss, D-Warren, a sponsor of the bill. “With cuts in education we aren’t able to spend extra time teaching kids English.”
Having grown up in a first-generation immigrant family where Ukrainian was her first language, Liss, empathizes with many of the Bangladeshi, Hmong and Arabic students in her district that struggle to learn English, “We can’t test kids who don’t speak English as their native language with other kids that do and expect equal results.”
All articles © 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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