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Manasseh's Board Takes On a 'No Child' Mandate: Resolution Aims to Shield English Learners

Ohanian Comment: What bothers me about the money argument is this: If the Feds gave them the full $2.7 million, then would the testing be fare? With the full $2.7 million, should students with limited English take the same tests as native speakers?

By Christy Goodman

The Manassas City School Board plans to join the fight against the U.S. Department of Education over its testing requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Federal education officials recently said that 18 states, including Virginia, need more stringent measurements of whether students in third through eighth grades are making adequate progress learning English as a second language. The officials said students with limited English skills should take the same tests as native speakers.

Before this mandate, students who speak little or no English either have been exempt from the tests or have taken a special proficiency exam instead of the Standards of Learning tests.

Fairfax and Prince William counties and Harrisonburg have passed resolutions stating that the new federal requirements are unfair and harmful to students just beginning to comprehend and speak English. Arlington and Loudoun counties and Manassas, Manassas Park and Alexandria are formulating similar resolutions.

"It is not a valid and reliable assessment of new English language learners," said Gail E. Pope, the Manassas school superintendent, as she introduced the resolution last week. "We often frustrate our children, and the results are always dismal, because they haven't learned to speak English yet."

Pope suggested that Manassas's resolution would state that no students with limited English skills would take the SOLs unless teachers who had been working with the students agreed that they were prepared to take the examination. The superintendent told the School Board that schools would not make the adequate yearly progress, or AYP, mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act if it passed the measure.

"We will not meet the participation rate for AYP, but the fact is, we won't meet the pass rate for AYP because our children will not pass the test," she said.

Nearly 35 percent of the Manassas student body is considered limited in English proficiency. If the federal requirements are not amended, some 350 such students would have to take the SOLs.

Virginia's congressional delegation has asked that the state be given a year to develop a test to meet the mandate.

"It is unethical to test kids that we know can't read English and are not prepared to take that test, just to have them fail," School Board member Sheryl L. Bass said.

Other School Board members said the resolution does not go far enough to spur public discourse regarding unfunded federal mandates that "are damaging our educational system," said Arthur P. Bushnell, chairman of the School Board.

Manassas will spend nearly $2.7 million for its English for Speakers of Other Languages program this school year. Of that, the federal government contributed less than $250,000, or 9 percent.

"They create a problem for us and are unwilling to fund a resolution to the problem," School Board member Curtis W. Wunderly said.

The board will take up the resolution at its Feb. 13 meeting.

— Christy Goodman
Washington Post


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