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Another District Joins No Child Left Behind Suit

The Terra Bella Union Elementary School District, about 80 miles south of Fresno in Tulare County, is the second district that has announced it wants to be a part of the suit.

Last week, the Alisal Union School District, a K-6 district in Monterey County, agreed to join the suit.

The lawsuit will seek to stop the state from requiring that English learners be tested in English when their academic progress is assessed to meet federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates.

"It is wrong to brand children, schools and communities as failures based solely on assessments that are in a language and form not understood by many of our students," said Frank Betry, Terra Bella superintendent.

The two districts joining the suit are similar to Coachella Valley Unified in that they have large numbers of English language learners and have been designated Program Improvement schools because students haven't made enough academic progress.

Program Improvement status subjects districts to various sanctions, the most serious of which is state takeover of a district if it fails to improve.

The Terra Bella district has 870 students, about 715 of whom are English learners, Betry said.

Betry said the Program Improvement status in his district isn't warranted.

From 1999 to 2004, the Academic Performance Index score - the state's measure of academic progress - increased from 369 to 613 in the district's one elementary school and from 405 to 592 in its middle school, Betry said.

"If the state were still giving award money (for progress), we'd get money from the state and sanctions from the federal government," Betry said.

Two statewide organizations also are joining the suit - the California Association for Bilingual Education and Californians Together, a coalition of 16 organizations representing parent, teacher and civil rights groups.

The groups say the testing of English learners in English violates No Child Left Behind, which says English learners should be tested in a "valid and reliable" manner and in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what students know and can do in academics.

State officials have said they want children to focus on English and learn the language as quickly as possible. They say they don't count English learners' test scores the first year they're in this country.

Marc Coleman, an attorney with one of three firms preparing the suit, said it probably will be filed in late April or early May. Several other districts still are considering whether to join the suit, Coleman said.

— Christine Mahr
The Desert Sun


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