The Education of English Language Learners in Arizona: A History of Underachievement
by Eugene E. Garcia, Kerry Lawton & Eduardo H. Diniz De Figueiredo - 2012
Background: The state of Arizona has recently mandated the Structured English Immersion Model (SEI) in the state’s public schools, and as a result the local flexibility that existed regarding the choice of program models for ELLs has ended. In the school year 2008-09, these regulations were made even more restrictive after the implementation of what is now called the 4-hour ELD block model.
Focus of Study: This report reviews achievement gaps in both reading and math between ELL and non-ELL students in Arizona over the period 2005-2009 and during the first year of implementation of the 4 hour ELD block, 2008-09. It also compares the progress of Arizona’s ELL population towards academic proficiency relative to ELL students in two cities and states that do not place as restrictive legislation on ELL instruction: Utah and Washington, DC, two educational entities with vastly different spending policies.
Research Design: Achievement was measured using the Reading and Math subtests of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS), with data from the 2005-2009 administrations. To interpret gaps in performance, differences in AIMS mean scaled scores were analyzed. Two types of comparisons were made: 1) within-grade, across-year, and 2) across-grade, within-year. This allowed a more comprehensive understanding of trends in terms of achievement gaps. The comparison amongst different states was done separately. Data were collected from two sources: Applications for Race to the Top, and incentive program offered as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, were used for Utah and Washington, DC. Data from Arizona were gathered using publicly available state report cards released annually by the Arizona Department of Education.
Findings: The study finds that Arizona has made little to no progress in closing the achievement gap between ELL and non-ELL students during this period. Here, the study argues that, notwithstanding changes in tests and proficiency thresholds in the states over this period of time, the relative position of Arizona vis-ŕ-vis these comparison entities remains very similar, with Arizona continuing to lag behind both in percent of ELL students achieving proficiency in reading and math.
Conclusion: The study presents recent evidence that suggests that Arizona is on the wrong path for closing achievement gaps for its ELL students and that this is due, at least in part, to its highly restrictive language instruction policies.
ARIZONAS RESTRICTIVE LANGUAGE INSTRUCTIONAL POLICIES
California, Arizona and Massachusetts have passed state referendums that have mandated very restrictive instructional models for the education of English Learners (ELLs) (Gándara & Hopkins, 2010; Wiley, Lee, & Rumberger, 2009). The Arizona referendum and subsequent legislation is the most restrictive of all (Mahoney, MacSwan, Haladyna & García, 2010), and frames the discussion for this paper, although similar language policies have been analyzed for California (Wentworth, Pellegrin, Thompson & Hakuta, 2010) and Massachusetts (Uriarte, Tung, Lavan & Diez, 2010).
The Structured English Immersion Model (SEI) was mandated in Arizona after the passage of Proposition 203 in 2000. With this Proposition, the local flexibility that existed regarding the choice of program models for ELLs ended, and SEI was required to be used in the school districts and charter schools in the state (Gándara & Hopkins, 2010). These regulations were made even more restrictive after the establishment of the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force, which was responsible for the implementation of what is now called the 4-hour English Language Development (ELD) block model (Mahoney, MacSwan, Haladyna & García, 2010). Regulated by Arizona Revised Statues 15-756.01, the 4-hour block model requires ELLs to receive English ELD services in an English-only immersion setting for a minimum of four hours per day for the first year in which they are classified as an ELL. This regulation is based on an assumption that ELLs can achieve proficiency in English very quickly (usually within a year) in an English-only instructional environment. Exiting from this mandated 4-hour block can be achieved only through the mastery of English at the students grade level as measured by the states English language proficiency test, the Arizona English Language and Literacy Assessment (AZELLA). The SEI also requires ELLs to be grouped based on their English language proficiency, and a specific number of minutes have been set for each component of language instruction (Wiley, Lee & Rumberger, 2009).
A model featuring prolonged daily segregation and the grouping of students by language proficiency does not align with research in the field of second language learners (August, Goldenberg & Rueda, 2010). According to this research, gaining academic proficiency in a second language typically requires more than one year of instruction (Cummins, 2000), and necessarily involves the negotiation of meaning; contextualized instruction; comprehensible linguistic input; metalinguistic awareness; activation of cultural and background knowledge; communicating beyond ones level of proficiency in the service of communication and cognitive development and access to academic content and concepts (Ovando, Combs & Collier, 2006; Krashen, Rolstad & MacSwan, 2007; Lesaux, Koda, Siegel & Shanahan, 2006; Lesaux & Geva, 2006). Therefore, in order to progress in language learning, ELLs need ample opportunities to interact with those beyond their own level of proficiency, and to hear and participate in language and cognitive activities that involve academic content.
By denying these opportunities to ELLs, the instructional policies currently in place in Arizona are having a negative effect on the academic achievement and educational experiences of these students (Krashen, Rolstad & MacSwan, 2007). Based on analyses of national comparative data, Rumberger and Tran (2010) conclude that states with restrictive language policies usually present larger achievement gaps than those without such policies (p. 98), and state policies and school practices restricting to use native-language instruction could limit the ability of states and schools to reduce the ELL achievement gap (p. 100). In another analysis of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Losen (2010) also provides evidence that English-only instruction implemented under Proposition 203 has not improved ELLs reading and math achievement in Arizona. His data show that math scores for ELLs in grades 4 and 8, during the period from 1998 to 2007, first increased but then declined, whilst the national average consistently improved. As for reading, 4th grade results in the same period also showed an initial increase followed by a subsequent decline, which in this case brought scores down to their initial 1998 level, whilst in 8th grade there was an overall decline. These results raise critical concerns in that they show that SEI as practiced in Arizona may be inconsistent with federal law. For example, the failure to show positive results for many years for ELL students runs counter to the mandates of the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974, which requires that states take appropriate action to overcome language barriers. This has been interpreted by the federal appeals court in Castañeda v Pickard (1981) to include that the program must also be effective. As the Court ruled in 1981: We do not believe Congress intended that under 1703(f) a school would be free to persist in a policy which . . . . in practice, proved a failure.
Moreover, increasing numbers of ELLs are being placed in special education programs since the passage of English-only instructional policy in the state (Artiles, Klingner, Sullivan & Fierros, 2010), possibly as a compensating measure for the lack of appropriate language services directed at these students. Artiles and his colleagues call attention to the danger of such an increase, given that most special education teachers are not adequately prepared to work with ELLs, thus placing both the students and the teachers in an unfair and counter-productive situation.
An instructional model that mandates the isolation of ELLs from mainstream students and classrooms for at least 80% of the school day also negatively impacts the social and cultural well-being of these students and their families. ELLs are silenced and marginalized in the greater school context, which diminishes their sense of belonging to the educational environment (Nguyen & Stritkus, 2009), consequently limiting their chances of academic success (Bernhard et al, 2006; Morrison, Cosden, OFarrell & Campos, 2003; Curran, 2003; Osterman, 2000). Also, these students are given no opportunity to develop their native and/or heritage language and cultural knowledge, both of which are strongly associated with the development of self-esteem, confidence, social skills, identity, and linguistic and academic achievement (Lee & Suarez, 2009; Francis, Lesaux & August, 2006; Schecter & Bayley, 2002; Rong & Preissle, 2009).
The mandated 4-hour ELD block is especially problematic for older students who are required to pass standardized writing and content-based exams in order to graduate high school. While ELLs are in ELD classes for four hours per day learning about English, they are being excluded from the core academic areas of math, science, and social studies (Mahoney, MacSwan, Haladyna & García, 2010; Gándara et al, 2010). Knowing that they are not receiving the same education as their English-speaking peers, these practices directly affect ELLs motivation and interest in academics, consequently reducing their chances of graduating high school and moving into higher education (Callahan, 2005; Cortina, 2009). In addition, these practices negate well-established theory and empirically based findings that an English learners language development is interdependent with cognitive growth (García, 2005). Language is not learned in isolation of cognitive development and content learning experiences. In an extensive review of the SEI programs performed on behalf of the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force, Krashen, Rolstad & MacSwan (2007) found no body of scientifically based research recommending the isolation of ELLs for four hours a day into English language classes, where they are kept from participating in and benefiting from core content and cognitively rich instruction.
The most restrictive curricular component in the Arizona law defines ELD and dictates the organization of English as a second language instruction. In Arizona law, ELD (as practiced in the 4 hour block) consists of teaching phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon and semantics as separate subjects. By focusing only on linguistic features, this approach completely disregards the cognitive underpinnings of second language development. There is no existing research supporting teaching young children English by having them practice isolated language parts for fixed periods of time, as suggested by the Arizona SEI policy (e.g., 60 minutes of grammar instruction per day; 60 minutes of vocabulary instruction per day; Krashen, Rolstad & MaxSwan, 2007). Indeed, August and Shanahan (2006), in a review of the extant research on teaching reading to English language learners, concluded that basic skills such as phonics and grammar are most meaningfully taught in the context of cognitively rich content instruction.
The challenge of ensuring access to high quality instruction for ELLs in Arizona becomes even greater when the preparation of teachers for this task is considered. To be effective, teachers of ELLs need to know what to teach, how to teach it, and how it will be assessed and monitored. However, since the establishment of restrictive language policies and the mandating of SEI, the quality of teacher preparation with regard to ELL instruction has been reduced significantly. According to De Jong, Arias, and Sanchez (2010), in the wake of Proposition 203, the state required a new SEI endorsement for all Arizona teachers. This endorsement qualified all teachers to be teachers of English language learners. However, whereas formerly English as a Second Language (ELS) and Bilingual Education (BLE) teachers had been required to take from 24-27 units, the new endorsement only required 6, effectively dropping the number of preparation hours for teachers of ELLs from between 305 and 405 hours to 90. This has ensured that most teachers of ELLs in the state are only receiving approximately 10% of the preparation time previously considered necessary to serve these students effectively. De Jong, Arias, & Sanchez (2010) note that a recent survey of 5300 educators of ELL students in California found that overwhelmingly bilingual certified teachers expressed the strongest belief that they knew how to teach ELLs effectively, and those teachers with less extensive training and preparation were also less confident of their ability to meet the ELL students needs. Unfortunately, data from 2006 to 2009 show a decrease of 16% in the number of credentialed and certified bilingual instructors in Arizona (Arias, 2009).
De Jong, Arias, and Sanchez (2010) also explain that most teacher preparation currently in place in Arizona focuses on increasing teacher knowledge of state policies related to SEI, not on providing them with knowledge of second language acquisition. Consequently, many novice as well as experienced teachers demonstrate little knowledge of effective practices in second language education such as the integration of students primary language in the classroom and an understanding of how language proficiency interacts with learning.
Denying ELLs access to core academic content within a rich, cognitively demanding educational setting discriminates against these students by blocking them from receiving the same educational experiences as students who are fully proficient in English (Gándara & Orfield, 2010; Losen, 2010), thus violating their civil rights (Valdes, 2009). Moreover, current instructional and teacher training policies restrict in-service and pre-service teachers, as well as schools and districts, from being able to implement best practices to enhance the linguistic and academic achievement of their ELL students (de Jong, Arias & Sanchez, 2010).
A LEGACY OF ACHIEVEMENT GAPS FOR ELLS
COMPARISON OF ARIZONA ELLS TO NON-ELLS
The following is an analysis of the academic achievement of Arizonas third to fifth grade ELL population as compared to that of non-ELL students. Achievement was measured using the Reading and Math subtests of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). Data from the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 AIMS administrations were examined. Sample sizes for each of the comparative groups are reported in Table 1. These numbers reflect the population of Arizona ELL and non-ELL students who received valid scores on the AIMS as reported in the AIMS Technical Manual reported annually by the State and available online at: http://www.ade.az.gov/standards/.
Table 1. Sample sizes used in the analysis of achievement gaps
To interpret gaps in performance, differences in AIMS mean scaled scores were analyzed. Two types of comparisons were made: 1) within-grade, across-year comparisons (e.g., 3rd grade cohort in 2007 to 3rd grade cohort in 2008) to gain information about the stability of the achievement gap across time, and 2) across-grade, within-year comparisons (e.g., 3rd grade cohort in 2007 to 4th grade cohort in 2007) to determine whether the achievement gap varies depending on grade level. The graphs included in Figures 1 and 2 plot mean scale scores on Arizonas Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) for ELL and non-ELL students and demonstrate a large achievement gap between the two populations. As shown, this gap is present in both mathematics and reading, and is found in each targeted grade. It is important to note that this analysis is descriptive in nature. Therefore, while the following identifies trends in academic achievement of ELL students relative to Arizonas non-ELLs, the results cannot be used as evidence that Arizonas educational policies have influenced or caused the existing achievement gap. While this is a significant limitation of the current study, the results are presented not to assign blame but rather the results nonetheless provide an essential historical context for the discussion on English language instruction and demonstrate that, in Arizona, underachievement of ELLs has long endured.
Figures 1 through 3 depict average scale score gap trends for ELL and non-ELL test takers at grades 3, 4, and 5 in AIMS reading. As shown, third grade ELL students scored, on average, between 49 to 53 points lower than non-ELL students. Fourth grade ELL students scored 53 to 59 points lower. Fifth graders, 50 to 57 points lower. Distinct patterns describing the magnitude of the achievement gap were observed over time. For example, the difference in performance between ELL and non-ELL third graders in 2005 was 49 points. This difference increased to 53 in 2006 and then remained stable, fluctuating less than two mean scale points in each subsequent year. This trend (i.e., an initial increase in the achievement gap followed by stability in the difference) repeated in the fifth grade cohorts, although fifth graders did demonstrate a higher initial increase than third graders.
Figure 1. Non-ELL and ELL average score gap trends in AIMS reading subtest at grade 3 (20052009). Standard deviations included in parentheses.
Figure 2. Non-ELL and ELL average score gap trends in AIMS reading subtest at grade 4 (20052009). Standard deviations included in parentheses.
Figure 3. Non-ELL and ELL average score gap trends in AIMS reading subtest at grade 5 (20052009). Standard deviations included in parentheses.
Differences in average scale scores between ELL and non-ELLs on AIMS mathematics are included in Figures 4 through 6. From 2005 to 2009, the gap in math achievement between ELL and non-ELL third graders ranged from a minimum of 37 mean scale points, to a maximum of 41. Fourth grade ELL students scored, on average, 46 to 55 points below non-ELL students and fifth grade ELL students scored anywhere from 45 to 55 points lower than non-ELL peers.
Across-grade, within-year comparisons indicate a performance gap that is higher for fourth graders than it is for third graders. For example, in 2009, the gap between ELL and non-ELL students was 40 mean scale points for third graders compared to 51 for fourth graders.
Figure 4. Non-ELL and ELL average score gap trends in AIMS mathematics subtest at grade 3 (20052009). Standard deviations included in parentheses.
Figure 5. Non-ELL and ELL average score gap trends in AIMS mathematics subtest at grade 4 (20052009). Standard deviations included in parentheses.
Figure 6. Non-ELL and ELL average score gap trends in AIMS mathematics subtest at grade 5 (20052009). Standard deviations included in parentheses.
This pattern was consistent across years, the highest discrepancy being 15 in 2007. Differences between fourth graders and fifth graders were negligible. As with reading, it appears that the achievement gap increased slightly between 2005 and 2006. After this initial increase, the gap in scores between ELL and non-ELL students remained largely stable for both third grade and fifth grade cohorts.
COMPARING PROGRESS TOWARD ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT: ARIZONA, UTAH, AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
This study also examined the progress of Arizonas ELL population towards academic proficiency relative to ELL students in two cities and states that do not place as restrictive legislation on ELL instruction: Utah and Washington, DC. The choice of these two particular places was based on the fact that the District of Columbia is one of the highest funding states per pupil in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2006), thus to some extent controlling for issues of school finance, whereas Utah is amongst the lowest funding states per pupil in the nation. In should be noted, however, that the profiles of the ELL students in these different entities may differ, as may the level of linguistic and ethnic segregation, from Arizona. And, although we do not have specific information regarding the programmatic arrangements related to the instruction of ELL students, these educational entities do not restrict these arrangements, legally, as does Arizona. And, we are aware that individual schools have the opportunity to implement a variety of models, including those that promote and include the utilization of the students heritage language during instruction.
Data were collected from two publically available sources: Applications for Race to the Top, and incentive program offered as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, each source available on the U. S. Department of Education website, provided information for Utah and Washington, DC. Data from Arizona were gathered using publicly available state report cards released annually by the Arizona Department of Education.
The percentages of ELL students meeting proficiency standards in each state/city are included in Table 2 and depicted in Figures 7 and 8. These percentages include students at all grade levels. For each state/city, efforts were made to create data comparable across years. Data occurring before, or as a result of, significant changes to state proficiency standards or testing practices were omitted and/or noted.
Table 2. Percentage of ELL students meeting state/district proficiency standards, 2003-2009
Figure 7. Percentage of ELL children meeting proficiency standards in reading by state, 2003-2009
Figure 8. Percentage of ELL children meeting proficiency standards in math by state, 2003-2009.
In 2009, nearly three-quarters (74.5%) of Arizonas ELL students did not meet state proficiency standards in reading. Additionally, when examined across time, progress towards improving this percentage has been slow. Between 2005 and 2009, Arizona reported an overall increase of 2.6% with an average percentage growth of 0.7%. The largest gain (3.5%) occurred in 2007 and the largest decrease (4.4%) was reported in 2006. However, if this initial decrease is removed from the analysis, Arizonas progress improves considerably, with proficiency increasing each of the last three years at an average rate of 2.3%.
Arizonas rate of growth in reading lags behind Washington, DC. In four years, Washington, DC increased its proficiency rate 13.3%, from 31.4 in 2006 to 44.7 in 2009. Arizonas progress does, however, compare favorably to that of Utah. Since 2003, the percentage of ELL students meeting proficiency in Utah has decreased by 0.2 percent, 2.8% below Arizona.
In 2009, two-thirds (33.1%) of Arizonas ELL students did not meet state proficiency standards in math and progress is not being made. Although small gains were achieved in 2007 and 2008, the total of these gains equaled 4.1% and occurred immediately following a 4.1% drop in 2006. In addition, the growth achieved in these two years was not built upon or sustained, as evidenced by the 0.1% decrease from 2008 to 2009.
As with reading, Arizonas growth in math proficiency has not been as large as that demonstrated by Washington, DC. The percentage of ELL students achieving proficiency in Washington, DC doubled, from 26.8% to 53.0% within four years. Although stagnant, the average growth of Arizona (0.0) outranks Utah (-0.7), the only state/city in the data reporting an overall decrease.
For both reading and math, it is difficult to know to what extent differing proficiency standards in each of the entities and changes in the states/city tests and standards influenced the growth or decline in scores over time. Certainly, noticeable fluctuation occurs after each of these changes. However, the relative position of Arizona vis-à-vis these other entities, whether high spending, or very low spending (as in Arizona), remain intact, with Arizona consistently underperforming. This echoes the findings of the Rumberger and Tran (2010) analyses described earlier, in which Arizona ELLs were shown to perform below ELLs in both New Mexico and Texas, also relatively low-spending states, on NAEP tests of reading and math.
Arizonas approach to the equal education of ELL students has been highly restrictive, mandating very direct implementation of a one-size fits all policy that has produced a significant legacy of achievement gaps for these students. Comparisons of these gaps over the time of these restrictive policies have been a goal of the present analysis. The results are clear: these policies have seem to have generated no substantive decrease in achievement gaps, particularly at secondary levels, and, in comparison to other states without such restrictive policies, Arizonas achievement gaps are clearly high. Moreover, when NAEP reports are considered, there is a growing gap between ELLs in Arizona and the national average, favoring the latter. This may be again interpreted as support to the argument that restrictive practices are detrimental to ELL achievement. At best, they do not appear to be improving the situation for Arizonas ELLs on average. Fundamentally, these results raise serious questions about the legality of Arizonas policies under EEOA as there is no evidence that over time the program created for ELLs has been effective.
Clearly, this report only begins to scratch the surface of issues related to academic outcomes of Arizonas 100,000 ELL students. Public policy discussions about ELL achievement are highly general, rarely considering outcomes beyond overall performance levels. Educational achievement can be characterized as 1) achievement on basic skills and facts and 2) achievement on higher order skills and advanced knowledge. While for ELLs, the lack of basic reading skills (e.g., phonemic awareness) is associated with lower reading achievement; the higher order skills (e.g. academic language) are more critical in determining a students long-term academic success (Garcia, 2005).
Oversimplified analyses of student achievement do not meaningfully evaluate higher-order skills and are therefore insufficient for the purpose of linking student learning to informed educational policy. For example, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) is the States annual standards-based assessment. For each subtest (e.g., reading; mathematics), students earn a composite score that represents their aggregate performance on various skills within each domain. Crucial information that can provide insight into how ELLs are progressing and their achievement is lost in this aggregate. For instance, a students composite score in reading represents their ability to perform basic skills (phonics; vocabulary) as well as higher order skills like the ability to read and comprehend functional and persuasive text. When you analyze only the total score, you receive limited information as to whether or not ELL students are demonstrating the skills they will need to achieve long-term academic success.
Unfortunately, these are the scores that are most commonly used in the policy arena. Future research must enrich the policy discussion concerning the academic achievement of ELLs by examining multiple years of state-wide, student-level achievement data disaggregated by the major sub-content areas of the state assessment. This type of data will strengthen our own analyses and better inform policy related to this population in Arizona and in the U.S. The present study only begins to frame the issues of education inequity in Arizona.
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