Legislation that provides schools more flexibility in how they deliver instruction to English Language Learner (ELL) students would also help more ELL students graduate high school on time.
There were 67,050 English Language Learners in Arizona’s public schools in fiscal 2016, which is about 6.19 percent of all public school students, according to U.S. Department of Education.
House Bill 2435 would let schools reduce the current 4-hours-each-school-day that English Language Learners spend in Structured English Immersion (SEI) – intensive English instruction in reading, writing, grammar and conversation – or alternative English language development instruction.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Paul Boyer, R (District 20- Phoenix) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jill Norgaard, R (District 18 – Phoenix), Rep. Becky Nutt, R (District 14 – Tucson), Rep. Macario Saldate, D (District 3- Tucson) and Sen. Catherine Miranda, D (District 27 – Laveen).
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“The intention was that they should only be in ELL for one year in that (4-hour) SEI block, but that’s not what’s actually happening,” said Stacey Morley, government affairs director for Stand for Children.
“Students are in this ELL block for as long as they are an ELL student, and if they don’t gain proficiency as they move through the K-12 system they tend to lose access to academic content, so they fall further and further behind their grade-level peers, which leads to huge dropout and low graduation rates for our ELL students,” Morley said.
Podcast by Brooke Razo/Arizona School Boards Association: Bill provides schools flexibility on ELL instruction
House Bill 2435 would let schools provide evidence-and research-based SEI to ELL students in kindergarten through sixth grade for 2 hours a day, 10 hours a week or 360 hours a year. It would allow them to provide similar instruction for ELL students in seventh through twelfth grade for 1.6 hours a day, 8.3 hours a week or 300 hours a year.
That flexibility means that “schools can choose if they want to do an English boot camp in the first two months of the year” and then release students into mainstream classes once they’re proficient in English, said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.
The changes would give ELL high school students more time to complete the classes required for graduation, which would raise the ELL student graduation rate in Arizona, which is currently about 20 percent – the lowest for these students in the entire nation.
The changes provided by this bill would help English learners have a better experience at school, and help teachers be more effective in their instruction, said Lourdes Peña, public affairs advisor for Triadvocates.
One key to the bill’s success so far has been gaining support of education advocates, moderates, liberals and conservatives.
“Developing buy in from multiple stakeholders should be key for any type of policy making,” Peña said. “We don’t think English language learners should be a political issue. We should focus on the outcomes of our students and proving a good learning environment for them.”
The bill would also require the state to produce an annual report that includes information about ELL student’s time in these English language development programs and students’ performance on statewide assessments after achieving proficiency in English.