Limited English Dooms Kids on WASL
Ohanian Comment: Can you read this and still doubt that NCLB is a formula to destroy public faith in public schools?
Limited English dooms kids on WASL
By Tan Vinh
Seattle Times staff reporter
For months some state educators have complained that the federal No Child Left Behind Act sets unreasonable standards for immigrants who are just learning English. Now, state officials think they have the data to back up their concerns.
In a study released yesterday, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reported that most students with limited English failed the reading and writing portions of the 2003 Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).
Those results, OSPI officials said, underscore their concern that it's unrealistic to think new immigrants can pass the high-stakes test and that the consequence of that — their low scores could result in their schools facing progressively stronger sanctions — is too severe.
According to the state superintendent, 88 percent of fourth-grade immigrants with limited English skills failed the reading test and 93 percent failed the writing portion last spring.
In seventh grade, 98 percent of the limited-English students failed the reading test and 89 percent failed the writing test.
High failure rates
A large number of immigrant students with limited English skills failed the reading and writing portion of the WASL last spring, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Here, by grade level, are the percentages of those students who failed:
Grade Reading test Writing test
4th grade 88 93
7th grade 98 89
10th grade 90 89
In the 10th grade, 90 percent failed the reading test while 89 percent failed the writing test.
Washington state uses WASL results to determine whether schools satisfy the No Child Left Behind Act, a sweeping piece of legislation backed by President Bush that won bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2001.
Among other things, the act calls on states to test students yearly in reading and math in third through eighth grades. Public schools must ensure that all students are proficient — as defined by each state — by the 2013-14 school year and meet gradual targets toward that goal.
Each school also must show annual progress for all its subgroups, such as racial minorities and limited-English speakers. A school would be considered "needing improvement" if any one subgroup scores poorly.
For schools that receive federal dollars, consistent failure to raise scores could bring sanctions such as allowing students to transfer to higher-achieving schools or replacing a school's leadership.
For this year's WASL, the statewide fourth-grade pass rates for all students were 66.7 percent for reading and 53.6 percent for writing. For seventh grade, the pass rates were 47.9 percent for reading and 54.7 percent for writing. For 10th grade, the pass rates were 60 percent for reading and 60.5 percent for writing.
Pete Bylsma, OSPI director of research and evaluation, said it is unreasonable to make non-English-speaking immigrants take the WASL because many of them can't understand the test directions.
"There are thousands of (immigrant) students who are taking the test who can't read or write," said Bylsma.
State schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson considers it unethical that special-education students and those who are just learning English are held to the same standard as other students.
Like her counterparts in some other states, Bergeson has been lobbying federal officials to lower the standards or to allow exemptions for special-education and immigrant students.
It's a pressing issue, especially for districts that have large numbers of students with Limited English Proficiency, or LEP.
In a separate report released yesterday, OSPI reported that the Seattle School District has about 5,800 LEP students who speak 65 different languages.
OSPI estimates there are 72,200 LEP students in the state, a slight increase from the previous year. An annual report on educating immigrant students concludes that the new federal law "will put an additional strain" on teachers working with LEP students.
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