Texas Education Bill Would Help Immigrant English Learners

classroom

By Texas State Representative Mary González,

As a Texas State Representative and educator, I have heard horror stories from parents on how anxious their children become just before test day– some to the point of sickness. Not because of the tests themselves, but the high stakes Texas has attached to the results. Because of those high stakes, 87% supported less standardized tests in a recent poll conducted by the Texas State Teacher Association.

These high stakes have an even greater effect on English Language Learners (ELLs). ELLs are more likely to have to repeat a grade, graduate late, or be placed on low-track remedial education programs. And in the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 29 percent of ELLs scored at or above the basic level in reading, compared with 75 percent of non-ELLs.

Under the current system, standardized test scores of ELL students are held accountable no matter the student’s English proficiency or the amount of time they have spent in Texas public schools. The students’ test scores then affect their school’s accountability ratings. Both students and schools lose in this situation.

Several studies have shown that it takes 4 to 7 years for ELLs to become proficient in academic English. Although about 80% of ELLs are native speakers of Spanish, ELLs speak about 400 different home languages total.

This year, a significant portion of my legislative agenda was aimed at clarifying and improving testing protocol for recently immigrated students. One of those bills, House Bill 2004, would define a school year as sixty consecutive days. If a recently immigrated student spends more than sixty consecutive days in a Texas public school, that student would qualify for a one year exemption from state-mandated exams. If a recently immigrated student spends less than sixty consecutive days in Texas public schools, that school year would not towards their one year exemption.

Not only do these students bear the stress of moving between countries, but they must grasp a new language with limited transition time into a new school. To top it off, we push them into a high-stakes, standardized testing system that not only affects their learning and ability to achieve, but puts high pressure on parents, teachers, and administrators. It has even thrown entire school districts into disarray.

All six of the school districts I represent have a limited English proficiency enrollment of over twenty percent. In the 2011-2012 school year, the Texas Education Agency showed 54,000 immigrants with limited English proficiency enrolled in Texas public schools. Currently, 1 in 9 students in U.S. classrooms are of limited English proficiency. That number is projected to rise to 1 in 4 students by 2025.

Through HB 2004, we give schools a chance to integrate ELL students without the pressure of an immediate, high stakes standardized test. Defining a school year sets a clear standard for testing exemptions and will give more recently immigrated students time to learn English. It will also give us a foundation for future improvements.

HB 2004 has now been voted out of the House and the Senate, and is very close to reaching the Governor’s desk. This means we are one step closer to making education policies relevant to the day-to-day lives of English Language Learning and immigrant students, parents, and educators– not just along the border– but all across Texas.

[Photo by Editor B]

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