- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

More than 5.5 million immigrant students with limited English skills, mostly Hispanics, now are exempt from required testing for reading and mathematics achievement during their first year in a U.S. school.

The new rules announced yesterday by the Department of Education will make it easier for schools to demonstrate adequate yearly progress in reading and math achievement under the No Child Left Behind Act because they will not have to include students who are still learning to speak English, whose scores generally pull down a school’s overall performance.

Students learning English as a second language would be tested for English proficiency each year, but schools could exclude their scores on separate, federally required state reading and math assessments if immigrant students chose to take those tests as well.

Also, the new rules permit schools to keep students with “limited English proficiency” in that category for an additional two years after they become fluent in English in order to assist schools in demonstrating adequate yearly progress in the limited English skill subgroup.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that fail to meet improvement targets in any subgroup for two years in a row are labeled low-performing, even if test scores for the school as a whole show adequate progress.

The aim of the law is to encourage communities to close the achievement gap between whites, minorities and other groups of students.

The new option would give states the flexibility to allow schools and local school districts “to get credit for improving English-language proficiency from year to year.”

Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, yesterday praised the added flexibility that the rule changes would give states to accelerate English-language instruction for immigrant students.

“Many of the law’s skeptics ought to … recognize [that the new rules] provide significant flexibility to states and schools without compromising the ability of disadvantaged children to access a quality education” Mr. Boehner said.

Education Secretary Rod Paige noted in announcing the rule change that states receive an additional $13 billion a year under No Child Left Behind for programs they develop to teach newly arrived immigrant students to speak English as quickly as possible.

“We will continue to work with educators on the ground to use the flexibility in the law to make it work in the classroom and school building,” Mr. Paige said.

The Education Trust, a leading school-reform group in Washington, praised the rule changes that take effect immediately, but questioned why it took the department more than two years “to offer such a simple, common-sense solution to a problem that has been bedeviling implementation” of school-reform efforts.

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