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NCLB Outrages

Field Memo from Commissioner Mills on ELA testing of ELL students

So much for state control of education: unlike Nebraska, just roll over and play dead.

Pedro J. Ruíz, Ph.D., Coordinator, OBE-FLS
New York State Education Department
Office of Bilingual Education
& Foreign Language Studies
89 Washington Ave., Rm. 367 EBA
Albany, NY 112234
Tel. (518) 474-8775 Fax (518) 473-4678
December 28, 2006

TO: District Superintendents of Schools
Superintendents of Public Schools
Administrators of Charter Schools
Administrators of Non-Public Schools
Bilingual and ESL Educators

FROM: Richard P. Mills

SUBJECT: Update on Limited English Proficient/English Language
Learner (LEP/ELL) Student Statewide Assessment Policy

This past summer, the U.S. Education Department (USED) ruled that,
under the No Child Left Behind Act, all English Language Learners
(ELLs) who have been in this country for more than one year must take
their state’s English Language Arts (ELA) tests.

The Board of Regents and I are opposed to this policy. We have long
supported New York’s excellent bilingual education programs, including
English as a Second Language, transitional bilingual and dual language
programs, and we remain committed to them.We believe many ELL students
need at least three years to learn sufficient English to take the ELA
test, and we remain concerned about the effect the federal decision
will have on the schools, teachers, and most of all the children. My
colleagues and I in the State Education Department have vigorously
stated our beliefs to USED officials, both before and after their
decision. You will recall that New York originally adopted the policy
of allowing students to take the New York State English as a Second
Language Achievement Test for three years after they arrive in this
country, and we would have continued this policy except for the USED ruling.

The Board of Regents and I are continuing to advocate strongly on
behalf of the children for a change in the USED ruling and, if
necessary, a change in the NCLB reauthorization. Our efforts to
persuade them extend back many months. Both formally and informally
through meetings, correspondence, discussions, and direct negotiations
with USED officials, my colleagues and I in the State Education
Department have proposed alternatives to the federal requirements for
assessing ELL students under Title I of NCLB. Most recently, on
October 23, I wrote to Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson, the federal
official in charge of this area, asking at least that the USED allow
children who have been in this country for more than one year but less
than two years to take the ELA for participation purposes only. We are
also working very hard with members of the New York Congressional
delegation, and most of them have sent letters to Secretary Spellings
seeking this change. I have not yet received an official response from
USED and am still attempting to get a positive one. I will continue to
fight for a change in the federal policy.
We have also involved many members of the New York Bilingual/ESL
community in advising us on this issue. We have consulted with
teachers, administrators, and advocacy organizations. All have taken a
strong stand in opposing the USED decision.

At this point, even as we work to change the USED policy, we must
follow the law and implement the policy during this coming year.
However, we have also taken a number of additional steps at various
levels to help ELL students including:

§ Providing test accommodations for ELL students, using the
best research and expertise in the country to guide us,

§ Informing parents, students and ELL teachers about the
content and format of the ELA tests,

§ Discussing concerns and issues with the ELL Committee of
Practitioners to seek their advice on how to revise short-term and
long-term testing procedures and practices, including NCLB

§ Working with schools to ensure that ELL students have the
appropriate preparation and information about the tests,

§ Participating in the USED’s LEP Partnership, a group of
states with similar issues and concerns, that share best practices
with educators, experts, and researchers in the areas of ESL and
bilingual education.

We will continue providing updates on any new developments regarding
these testing and accountability issues. On behalf of the Board of
Regents and the staff of the State Education Department, I thank you
for your continued work and support on behalf of the students of New
York State.

c: Jean C. Stevens

— Richard P. Mills


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