Complaints are growing that some school districts label English-speaking children as English Language Learners based on misleading surveys that ask if anyone in the home speaks a language other than English, reports Mary Ann Zehr on Education Week. Once labeled as ELL, students must test well in English to be reclassified as fluent — even if English is the only language they know.
Christina Chum, a parent of a 5th grader in Orange County, Fla., for example, says her son was mistakenly categorized as an ELL after she said on a home-language survey that Spanish was sometimes spoken in their home. She’s asked district officials to lift the label for her son, whose first and primary language is English, but she says they tell her state law doesn’t permit them to do so, unless her son proves on a test that he knows English.
. . . Lori Phanachone, now a freshman at Iowa State University, was suspended for three days from Storm Lake High School in Iowa last school year after she refused to take an English-proficiency test. The honor student declined to take the exam as a protest against the Storm Lake district’s labeling of her as an ELL solely because she had said on a home-language survey that she spoke Lao, the language of Laos, at home.
Arizona changed the home-language survey to ask only for the student’s primary language, not the language of the parents or grandparents who live in the home. Now “the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights is investigating a complaint that contends . . . Arizona is discriminating against children who may be dominant in English but still need extra help to gain proficiency in it.”
It would make sense to give extra help in language development to kids who need it, regardless of whether their parents speak English or some other language.