The Arizona Republic reports that Arizona has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Education (ED) in which it agrees to end its practice of monitoring the classrooms of English language learner (ELL) teachers to determine the teachers’ English fluency. Instead, the task of testing teachers’ fluency in English will fall to school districts and charter schools as part of federal and state legal requirements. The state’s agreement with DOJ and ED allows it to avoid further investigation and a possible federal civil-rights lawsuit.
The investigation began after unnamed parties filed a civil-rights complaint in May 2010 alleging that the state’s on-site monitoring reports led to teachers being removed from classrooms based on their accents. In November 2010, federal officials told Arizona that its fluency monitoring may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against teachers who are Hispanic and others who are not native English speakers.
Under the agreement, the Arizona Department of Education will remove the fluency section from the form used by its monitors who visit classrooms. It also will require schools and districts to file assurances with the state that their teachers are fluent. The state did not admit any wrongdoing. As a result, federal officials determined there were insufficient facts to establish a civil-rights violation and closed the case.
Despite the agreement to drop fluency from the form, John Huppenthal, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, said his office will continue to instruct state monitors to talk to districts about individual teachers whose English pronunciation or grammar is flawed. We still are going to be conscious of these articulation issues,” Huppenthal said. “Students should be in a class where teachers can articulate.”
Each year, state monitors visit a sampling of classrooms to determine compliance with state and federal laws covering how schools teach children still learning English. The monitoring of teacher fluency began in 2002 after passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A concern was the low proportion of English-learning students who pass the state’s standardized test in reading, writing and math, called AIMS.
Monitors have reported infractions such as teachers instructing in Spanish, using Spanish-language teaching materials or hanging Spanish-language posters on their classroom walls, which are prohibited by Arizona’s English-only law. Monitors also reported that some teachers did not have proper credentials to teach English learners. The monitors also noted what they considered unacceptably heavy accents that caused some teachers to mispronounce words and teachers using poor English grammar.
The Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, investigated several complaints that teachers were removed from classrooms for fluency reasons, union President Andrew Morrill said. “We followed up on initial complaints that they themselves or someone they knew in their building were being harassed, receiving undue scrutiny and having their fluency called into question because of their accents” Morrill said. No evidence was found that it was widespread. Morrill said the union never heard of a teacher being fired because of the monitoring reports.
Federal officials found Arizona’s approach to determining fluency unacceptable because findings were subjective and based only on brief classroom visits. That was the case even when targeted teachers had passed more extensive English-fluency exams administered by districts. Although Arizona defended its actions, explaining that classroom visits were effective and NCLB required the state to monitor fluency, it agreed to change the monitoring form by removing the fluency sections. The state instead will accept a district’s or school’s assurance that a teacher tested as fluent on a more complete, objective exam.
Nonetheless, Huppenthal said he will continue to find ways to regain state power over determining the fluency of English-language teachers. He plans to explore requiring a fluency test when teachers are licensed by the state and seeking direct authority to monitor fluency through the state Legislature. “We’re going to want explicit authority from the Legislature so we can have regulatory power over these issues,” Huppenthal said. “That’s how we’re going to resolve this issue.”
Source: Arizona Republic, 9/12/11, By Pat Kossan
[Editor's Note: In May 2010, Legal Clips summarized an article the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Arizona Department of Education had informed school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English.
Legal Clips summarized an Education Week article in September 2010 noting that the Horne v. Flores case, addressing whether Arizona’s English language learner (ELL) program violates the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA), was being heard on remand. The article also reported that Arizona had been the focus of an investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights into whether the state’s use of a home-language survey and English-language-proficiency test were in compliance with federal law. OCR determined, in a letter to the state, that Arizona's simplification from three questions to one question on its home-language survey was a violation of federal law. A second letter from OCR found that the state education department’s use of its English-language-proficiency test did not comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because “it fails to ensure a valid measure of whether ELL students are (a) proficient in each language domain before they are exited from ELL services and (b) able to participate meaningfully in Arizona’s … educational programs.” The letter said Arizona’s use of its English-language-proficiency test also did not comply with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. ]