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Arizona reports gap in English learning compliance

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A new review says many Arizona public schools don’t comply with requirements for instruction of students learning the English language, and the state’s top education official says he plans to start reporting noncompliant districts starting in the fall.

That could subject those districts to possible withholding of some state funding provided for English Language Learning programs.

The Auditor General’s Office special study of the English Language Learning program on Wednesday released its first review of how school districts, charter schools and the state itself are implementing new requirements made three years ago under a 2006 law.

The office’s study said nearly two-thirds of districts and charter schools reviewed still haven’t fully implemented so-called structured English immersion models designed to have students become proficient in one year.

The study said nearly half of the districts and charter schools reviewed did not provide students with four hours of English language development. That’s a key component of the models.

And the study said state education officials have yet to start making required reports on chronically noncompliant programs.

That will change in September when the Department of Education will begin reporting those districts to the Board of Education, said Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

The department will base its reports on the program’s key components, including the requirement for four daily hours of English language instruction, Huppenthal said in response to the study.

While the rate of reclassifying ELL students as proficient in English has increased, a shortage of data and other factors make it too early to judge the effectiveness of the required instructional models, the report said.

The number of ELL students in Arizona dropped from 170,000 in 2008 to 106,000 in 2010, the study said.

The number dropped primarily because of the higher rate of students becoming proficient in English, withdrawals from the program and a significant decrease in the number of new ELL students, the study said.

“The cause for the significant decrease in the new ELL student population is beyond the scope of this study,” the auditors wrote.

The 2006 law was enacted in response to a legal and political fight over adequacy and funding of the state’s ELL program. The court fight, which began in 1992, continues in federal court.

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