Advocates, Senate Education Committee support ELL instruction flexibility - AZEdNews
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Advocates, Senate Education Committee support ELL instruction flexibility

Lawrence Robinson, Roosevelt School District Governing Board Member And ASBA Board Of Directors President, Speaks In Support Of Senate Bill 1014 On English Language Learners At The Senate Education Committee Meeting On Jan. 15, 2019 At The Capitol In Phoenix. Photo Courtesy Of Chris Kotterman/ASBA

Update: Senate Bill 1014 received a due pass recommendation on Feb. 5 during it’s third reading in the Senate, and the bill with Sen. Paul Boyer’s floor amendment was transmitted to the House.

Education advocates spoke today in support of Senate Bill 1014, which provides schools flexibility in instruction for English Language Learners, and the Senate Education Committee approved the bill with amendments.

“School is hard enough without having a language barrier,” said Sen. Paul Boyer, one of the bill’s sponsors as he voted to approve the bill. “My heart just breaks for these 85,000 kids. I’m grateful for the support of this committee, and Stacey Morley with Stand for Children for raising this issue and bringing it to my attention, which I wasn’t aware of before.”

SB 1014 would provide schools more flexibility in how they deliver instruction to English Language Learner (ELL) students and that would help more ELL students graduate high school on time. The ELL student graduation rate in Arizona is currently about 20 percent – the lowest for these students in the entire nation.

“It’s very clear that what we have going on now simply does not work,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, a Senate Education Committee member who also serves on the Pendergast Elementary School District Governing Board. “We are failing our kids right now, because we are stuck with a broken system so any efforts to remedy that I’m very much appreciative of.”

Currently, English Language Learners spend four hours each school day in Structured English Immersion instruction. Senate Bill 1014 would let schools instead provide evidence- and research-based models of structured English immersion for 120 minutes a day, 600 minutes a week or 360 hours per yer to students in grades K-6 and 100 minutes a day, 500 minutes a week or 300 hours a year to students in grades 7-12.

“The word I love is flexibility and the freedom for a district or a charter to be able to pick programs that might work better for their children,” said Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Sylvia Allen, who voted to approve the bill. “I appreciate all the efforts that went into this bill and I think they are going to bring about really good results so I’m excited to see what we can do with it.”

That portion of the bill is similar to last session’s House Bill 2435, which was not scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor despite support from Republicans and Democrats.

Advocates, Senate Education Committee support ELL instruction flexibility AZEdNewsELLInstructionInfographic2019
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

There is a lot of new research regarding English Language Learners “and to be honest with you, what we’re doing in Arizona is not researched-based and it actually shows that it is going backwards,” said Marisol Garcia, who has taught social studies for 15 years and is also a Structured English Immersion instructor in the Isaac School District and vice president of the Arizona Education Association.

Advocates, Senate Education Committee support ELL instruction flexibility Marisol-Garcia
Marisol Garcia, a social studies teacher, SEI instructor for 15 years in the Isaac School District and vice president of the Arizona Education Association, speaks in support of Senate Bill 1014. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“My school district is one of those that veers from the norm, we have 23 percent of students in our SEI program, so you can imagine the handcuffs that our small school district is forced to deal with when it comes to staffing, when it comes to everything, when you have to comply within these very prescriptive things,” Garcia said.

SB 1014 would also require the State Board of Education to adopt and approve evidence- and research-based models of structured English immersion for school districts and charter schools to use with English Language Learners that would take into consideration the school’s size, location, grade-levels and percentage of students who are English Language Learners and require annual assessment of students. The bill would also allow school districts to submit evidence and research-based models to the State Board of Education for approval.

“We know this bill will allow our education professionals to really do what they were hired to do – to work with parents, to work with research, to do the best thing for each one of the individual kids,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the current SEI model segregates English Language Learners from their fellow students, that there is a shortage of qualified SEI educators, causes scheduling issues and limits teacher’s tailoring instruction to their individual student’s needs.

Lawrence Robinson, president of the Roosevelt School District Governing Board and president of the Arizona School Boards Association Board of Directors, told Senate Education Committee members that the SEI model is failing students.

Advocates, Senate Education Committee support ELL instruction flexibility Lawrence-Robinson-Cropped-HP
Lawrence Robinson, Roosevelt School District governing board member and ASBA Board of Directors president, speaks in support of Senate Bill 1014 on English Language Learners at the Senate Education Committee meeting on Jan. 15, 2019 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Chris Kotterman/ASBA

“But most importantly what Lawrence Robinson brought up is that our academic support of these students has shown that they are flatlining,” Garcia said. “We have actually failed almost a generation of children because we have not been able to do what’s best for them because it was necessary to comply within these four hours.”

If this bill passes, local education agencies can work together with parents and research to do what’s best for these kids so that all these kids can continue to grow, Garcia said.

SB 1014 would provide “flexibility to school districts to develop and implement research-based models that would best and most effectively serve our English Language Learners,” said Anna Manzano, an elementary language specialist with Tucson Unified School District, which currently serves 5,000 English Language Learners. “This bill would have a massive impact in our programs.”

In September 2017, Tucson Unified presented a research-based model to the State Board of Education.

“This alternate model allowed for English Language Learners and English dominant students to work together as a resource for one another so that students could develop proficiency in two languages,” Manzano said. “The board was interested, but they were clearly held back by the current law.”

“We believe that a strong English Language acquisition and development program is essential to students success; however, Arizona’s current law has limited us to a model that is based on very little research. Other language models with strong research do exist,” Manzano said.

“Although the current model has been in place over 10 years, it has yielded very poor results,” Manzano said. “Over the last 10 years, we have had the greatest achievement gap for English Language Learners on the AzMERIT and a very low graduation rate – one of the lowest in the nation.”

Without fluent English speaking students in the classroom, ELL students do not have student role models and that is also a problem, Manzano said.

“The current model limits the time students spend learning content. They’re limited to learning  English Language Development and this creates a gap not only in language development, the acquisition of English, but also again in content knowledge, which directly affects the graduation rate of our English Language Learners,” Manzano said.

Paula Cortes, a secondary language specialist with Tucson Unified School District, said, “Students need the flexibility to use the model that works best and meets the needs of their school community. Parents and students deserve to have the increased ability to select the access programs and opportunities of their choice.”

Advocates, Senate Education Committee support ELL instruction flexibility Paula-Cortes
Paula Cortes, secondary language specialist with Tucson Unified School District, spoke in favor of SB 1014.

When English Language Learners have increased interactions with English dominant students, they learn language faster through peer-to-peer modeling, Cortes said.

“English learners would also have greater access to content areas and college and career readiness standards through research-based methods to facilitate learning of content such as sheltered content instruction and project-based learning,” Cortes said. “English learners will have access to electives, arts and career education, resulting in greater student engagement and more college- and career-ready graduates.”

The Senate Education Committee approve SB 1014 with 8 ayes, 0 nays and 0 members not voting.

“I feel that the four-hour block has always been a misinterpretation of the Flores lawsuit,” said Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, who taught high school math for 25 years. “This structured block takes four hours out of the day, so you can’t take your math or your science and you can’t do your literature or CTE courses. I agree 100 percent, and I vote a strong aye.”

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, a former classroom teacher who taught bilingual education for many years, said, “This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

“I would like to get rid of the four-hour block,” Gonzales said. “I realize it was voted on and protected by the voters in the year 2000, but it has really been a detriment to thousands and thousands of children when the schools were not allowed to come up with their own programs to teach children whose mother tongue is not English.”

“I really look forward to seeing the proposals from school districts coming up with their own programs to teach and do justice for all children that are in their classrooms and schools,” Gonzales said. “I vote an astounding yes for this bill.”

Sen. Rick Gray, another sponsor of SB 1014, thanked Sen. Paul Boyer for bringing this ELL flexibility bill back up and said, “I would have liked to see it go through last year. One of the things that bothers me is to hear about the percentages of kids getting out of ELL.”

A few years ago, a bipartisan group of educators went up to Utah to look at their English Language Learner program, which is basically software driven, Gray said.

“They started with a pilot program. It went so well that they took it statewide,” Gray said. “They had 70 percent of their kids graduate out of ELL in the first year.”

It’s appalling that Arizona’s English Language Learner program costs millions of dollars per year, but is not showing positive results, Gray said.

“I fully support this bill, but I also believe there are better ways – we live in a digital society, kids are visual learners, they’ve got software programs now that will  teach a child and in essence, have a mentor in the program take them up where they need to be individually,” Gray said.

Sen. Tyler Pace said, “The relationship between a teacher and a student is the reason why teachers become teachers – to have the ability to impact the individual, to adapt lessons to teach that individual and to find ways to help that individual grow. I’m a supporter of strengthening that bond and that relationship  between teacher and student and because of that I vote aye.”

Sen. Quezada also voted to approve SB 1014 saying, “The research all says that this Structured English Immersion type of a program does not work.”

“With this bill, we’re greatly improving what we’re doing, but we’re still holding on to a small element of Structured  English Immersion,” Quezada said. “I think that although the flexibility of what we’re adding here will resolve a lot of the issues, and gives a lot of flexibility to the districts to find a system that does work, we have to move away from programs we know are failing kids even if it’s in statute just a little bit.”

“I see no rationale to stick with a program that is only reclassifying 11 percent of our kids right now, even if you believe that’s the law and we should stick to it. The law’s broke and it doesn’t work,” Quezada said.