- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

States where students are learning to speak English would be allowed to test those children in their native language for up to seven years under a draft of proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind law.

The draft, crafted by key House lawmakers, is the subject of a hearing today by the House Education and Labor Committee. Lawmakers will hear testimony from more than 30 groups on a range of issues.

The 2002 NCLB law — which is up for renewal — requires states to test students in reading and math and track their annual progress, including children with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs). Schools are held accountable if their students don’t make adequate yearly progress.

The law allows states to test ELLs in their native language for three years, with the possibility of an additional two years on a case-by-case basis. The draft proposal would extend that to five years, with the possibility of the two-year extension.

“That’s simply too long,” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings wrote last week in a letter to committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, who crafted the proposal. “This would allow a third-grade student to reach the tenth grade before ever being tested in English.”

The provision is one of several in the draft over which the administration has expressed concern.

Top committee Republican Rep. Howard P. “Buck McKeon of California — who lent his name to the draft but hasn’t officially endorsed it — also has concerns with the ELLs provisions, an aide to Mr. McKeon said. The aide said these provisions still are under discussion as the panel prepares to introduce legislation.

The draft proposal also, for the first time, would require states with 10 percent of ELLs who share the same language to develop valid and reliable native-language tests for that group. The draft calls for extra funding to help states develop such tests and gives states two years to develop a system — of native language tests, portfolio tests, simple English tests or other methods — to measure ELLs.

Some community groups, such as First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy organization, praised NCLB’s provisions for special-needs children and the proposed changes.

“NCLB helped shine a light on some of the children who have traditionally been overlooked and neglected — English language learners and students with disabilities,” said Melissa Lazarin, director of education policy for the group. “The draft Miller-McKeon proposal reflects this continued commitment to English language learners and ensuring that all students be held to the same high academic standards.”

Educators have complained that NCLB is too rigid, and Mr. Miller said he would like to make it more flexible.

His discussion draft would retain the law’s requirement that students reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014. However, it also would allow states to use other factors in addition to reading and math scores to determine adequate yearly progress, such as graduation rates, the percentage of students completing college-preparatory courses and test scores in other subjects.

The draft covered the main sections of NCLB. A draft proposal covering the rest of NCLB was released late last week.

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