The standards for English Language Arts and Literacy are, for the most part, thorough. By using generic frameworks for defining these principles that students should eventually master, teachers are given liberties to design a curriculum that is personal and appropriate. The “Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy” explicitly states its limitations on page 6 of the document. I’d like to bring your attention to the 5th example of what the standards do not cover. It is as follows: “It is also beyond the scope of the standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post-high school lives.”
Recently, I found an article via the NCTE Inbox on Education Weekly’s website that focuses on the current debate over sufficient English teaching programs for students that are not fluent. The article, written by the Associated Press, is entitled ‘U.S., Arizona Settle Over Students With Limited English’. It addresses the denouement an ongoing issue between the federal Department of Justice and Education and the Arizona Department of Education concerning the early immersion of English Language Learners into classrooms that did not provide a special language learning component. Arizona’s educational system was accused of “misclassifying” students. The federal government argued that the premature moving of students violated the “students’ civil rights” and threatened to take away funding unless the testing for English Language Learners, in order to determine if the students are ready to join English classrooms, is changed.
Is the standardized testing of English Language Learners the only way to “classify” them as ready?
Arizona educational authorities conceded to the federal government’s demand that the classification system must be altered. The Associated Press reports, “Arizona could have lost millions in federal funding if it didn’t fix the system to address investigators’ concerns.” The article is extremely vague and fails to specify the nature of these changes that will supposedly “fix the system.” Maybe that’s because no one has an answer.
In January of 2011, NPR’s Claudio Sanchez put together a compelling story (audio and text) that preemptively addresses this concern. It provides a great background for the Associated Press’ article by describing the intensive, lengthy English Language Learning program. The current program, a strict four-hour class called Structured English Immersion, developed in the wake of bilingual education, which was banned in 2000. Sanchez asks teachers and principals about what they think are the most competent systems for teaching English in the Arizona school system. The variety of opinions he encounters further illustrates how dynamic and difficult the issue of finding effective pedagogic strategies for non-native English speakers is.