Virginia Senators Back School Boards on ELL Testing

K-12 Testing

School boards in Fairfax County, Prince William County, and Harrisonburg, Va., passed resolutions in late winter opposing the federal requirement that students just beginning to learn English take regular state reading tests. The Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) sought help from Virginia's U.S. senators, John Warner and Jim Webb. The senators introduced legislation that would give a temporary reprieve to school districts fighting rules on testing English language learners (ELLs) for the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). If the bill passes, school districts would not be sanctioned for the current school year if they continue to delay administering the state reading test until ELL students have reached a certain level of English mastery.


The National Education Association expressed support for the bill. Joel Packer, the union's director of education policy and practice, explained, "We are supporting our Virginia [NEA] affiliate that believes there needs to be additional flexibility for this year."


VSBA had proposed legislation that would do more than offer a temporary reprieve: "[English-language learners] will be tested under current Title III provisions to determine level of English proficiency. Only when students are deemed sufficiently proficient in English will states be required to adhere to the Title I provisions and administer the federally approved grade level reading test. This emergency revision of the current ESEA (also known as NCLB) is effective only until full re-authorization of ESEA is completed." VSBA has invited school board associations in other states to join a coalition seeking legislation to ease federal requirements for testing ELLs.


Some Hispanic groups have opposed the change, arguing that failure to include ELLs in regular testing will allow districts to avoid educating them in content areas. Supporters of the Virginia districts as well as other groups focused on ELLs respond that the damage to the children caused by forcing them to take tests they cannot read outweighs any possible benefits from inclusion. They argue that other methods to ensure proper inclusion must become part of NCLB.