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The question has loomed large for years: Is the Los Angeles Unified School District neglecting its non-English-speaking students? A study last year by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC seemed to think it was possible.
After tracking an entire group of students who started out as sixth graders in 1999 and graduated in 2005, TRPI researchers found three-fourths of the students, despite being in U.S schools for eight years or more, were still classified as "English language learners" by the time they entered ninth grade.
Moreover, nearly 30 percent of LAUSD students placed in English language-learning programs didn't get reclassified as English proficient by the end of middle school. Studies suggest learning English should take about five years, the report said.
The group's study, called "¿Qué Pasa?: Are English Language Learning Students Remaining in English Learning Classes Too Long?," found that multi-lingual students who transitioned into regular classes at LAUSD had dramatically better academic outcomes than those who were stuck in the English language-learning classes.
Inherent in the results were questions about whether LAUSD was, in effect, discriminating by not giving non-English-speaking students enough opportunities to integrate into the mainstream of their schools.
Now, according to a scoop in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Department of Education will seek answers from the school district on the question of the treatment of non-English-speaking students.
According to the story: Federal analysts will review how English learners are identified and when they are judged fluent enough to handle regular course work. They’ll examine whether English learners have qualified, appropriately trained teachers. And they’ll look at how teachers make math and science understandable for students with limited-English skills — and how a school provides extra help for those struggling the most. Reviewers also will see if the district communicates effectively with parents in a language they understand. The inquiry was prompted primarily by the low academic achievement of English learners; about 3 in 100 are proficient in math and English at the high school level, federal officials said. Focusing on LA Unified also makes sense because it has so many English learners, they said.