July 30, 2008

Officials Reject State Test Requests

By Emily Krone

[email protected]@dailyherald.com

U.S. Department of Education officials this month rejected Illinois requests to ease the blow of dropping a special test for students who are still learning English.

The Illinois State Board of Education requested, and federal officials refused, to allow districts to exclude the scores of English learners when calculating whether they met state and federal standards.

The state also asked permission to discount the math and reading scores of students who have been in the Illinois school system for fewer than two years.

The law already allows districts to toss out the scores of students who have lived in the country for less than a year.

State Superintendent Christopher Koch called the requested accommodations "common sense" in a letter to the department of education.

But a representative from the Department of Education replied that those accommodations would undermine the law's intent, which is to hold schools accountable for student achievement.

Local educators have blasted state and federal officials for forcing students new to English to take tests that rely heavily on language proficiency, and therefore won't fairly assess what students do or don't know.

But federal officials say most of those students have had ample time to learn the language.

In a letter to Koch, Kerri Briggs of the Education Department noted that "the great majority of (English learners) are second- and even third-generation residents of the United States."

Of the 21,000 third-graders in Illinois enrolled in bilingual education classes in 2007, about 14,000 had been in the program for three years or longer, according to state statistics.

Third-graders are the youngest students tested under the federal accountability law. The number of students in bilingual classes decreases as the grade level increases.

By 11th grade, only 4,800 students remained enrolled in bilingual classes, according to state statistics. Of those, 1,500 had been in the system for three years or longer.

Still, even those students who have been in the country for three or four years might have large gaps in their education, Palatine- Schaumburg High School District 211 Superintendent Roger Thornton said.

"If in fact it is possible for a kid to come to our culture and be here a year or two and achieve standards, then our standards are pretty low - and they're not," he said.

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