|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 15, 2004
Sacramento Bee 11-13-04
State seeks English-learner waiver
The state wants to be excused from a provision of federal law that requires schools to test English learners in reading and writing as early as kindergarten and first grade.
The federal 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires all students with limited English skills to be tested in reading, writing and speaking. The state asked for a waiver this week to continue California's practice of testing only speaking, listening and comprehension skills in kindergarten and first grade. Reading and writing tests begin in second grade.
State schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell says he is seeking the waiver from the U.S. Department of Education because he believes testing of children so young is unreliable. Because one-on-one testing likely would be required, the time is better spent on instruction, O'Connell said.
"The logic indicates that this doesn't make much sense," said Hilary McLean, O'Connell's press secretary.
The move is part of O'Connell's campaign to mitigate the effect of No Child Left Behind on California. He contends California's testing and accountability system is a better measure of student achievement than No Child Left Behind's rules.
In March, O'Connell and the school superintendents of 13 other states petitioned the federal government, seeking permission to use their own accountability systems instead of the one the federal law imposes. There's been little movement toward granting the waiver, which would require an act of Congress.
Representatives of the federal Education Department did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Mary Fulton, a policy analyst at the Denver-based think tank Education Commission on the States, said the federal government mostly has approved waivers for special circumstances or when overwhelming evidence demonstrated a provision of the law was impractical.
"It seems as though the department is not willing to grant many waivers, certainly not on the provisions that they believe are front and center to No Child Left Behind," Fulton said.
California legislators proposed a bill seeking the waiver last session, but the bill died in the Senate. The state Board of Education directed O'Connell to issue the waiver request Tuesday.
California schools have 1.5 million students with limited English skills, and many educators agreed Friday that little purpose would be served by testing reading and writing in English learners in kindergarten and first grade.
Peter D. Roos, co-director of the legal group Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy Inc., in Oakland said some potential for harm exists in testing reading and writing in children so young.
"It causes them to feel badly because of lack of exposure," Roos said.
Still, he saw this provision in No Child Left Behind as part of the general direction of education policy.
"There's more and more effort to get into literacy at earlier ages, and certainly more and more pressure from the federal government to test the holy devil out of kids," Roos said.
Mary Turner, a kindergatern teacher at Rio Linda Elementary School, agreed the time would be better spent on instruction.
"We do a ton of assessment," Turner said. "It just takes so much classrooom time you lose."
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