How Texas Fails to Serve Bilingual Students: Closing Argument Part Two

In Part Two of his closing argument in the school funding trial, attorney David Hinojosa of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) focuses on Texas’ failures to meet needs of bilingual students.

While the equity gap has negatively affected our property poor districts as a whole, the limited English proficiency students, also known as English language learners, also do not have the opportunity to achieve their full potential because of the insufficient bilingual education allotment.

The Edgewood intervenors offered three recognized experts, documenting a myriad of way that the State fails to meet the needs of LEP students, both in rich and poor districts. The State could offer no expert in its defense. The evidence overwhelmingly established that the State has failed to treat these LEP students equitably and adequately.

Texas recognizes that districts require more resources in order to provide an access to a quality education for LEP children, and in fact, provides them with a .10 weight to the adjusted basic allotment. But the level of the weight to bring our LEP children to the achievement standard set in Texas and in our nation is grossly inadequate and unsupported by any research in Texas or in any other state or by the testimony of any of the superintendents in this case or by any of the experts in this case.

In fact, it was arbitrarily set at such a weight. The evidence indisputably shows that studies were commissioned by the State as early as 1974 and again in 1984 and as late as 1989, in order to find out what additional resources are required to provide a quality education to LEP children.

And in each of these studies, the suggested minimal weight was between .38 and .4 in order to provide these children with a minimally accredited education as defined. But the .38 and .4 weights, in and of themselves, were very conservative and actually discounted to provide those children with an adequate education.

Districts like the Edgewood intervenors are responsible for educating a much higher percentage of the LEP children compared to the state average on inadequate bilingual education funding, and it’s disproportionately borne by such districts.

For example, while the state average LEP population was roughly 15 percent for the year 2003, Edgewood ISD’s LEP population was 22.3 percent. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo’s LEP population was at 37.4 percent, San Elizario was 53.1 percent, and Laredo ISD was 59.9 percent.

Three out of five children in Laredo ISD are LEP. The State’s own witnesses said that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, language in the home, including LEP, all students must meet the State minimal criteria under standardized tests.

But the State’s failure to provide districts with sufficient resources, as the evidence showed in order to provide the LEP children with an adequate education, has led to dreadful achievement results in Texas.

For the 2002-2003 TAKS, all tests taken, at two SEMs below panel recommendations, fifth graders passed the English test at a meager 31.8 percent. On the LEP Spanish test it was 31.9 percent versus the State average of 55.9 percent

.

For the eighth graders, only one quarter of the LEP in the state passed the all test standard, while the state average was 69.9 percent. For the eleventh graders, only 15.2 percent of the LEP passed, while the state average was 49.8 percent.

And it’s a peculiar thing about these scores that we have just shown. The state averages aren’t impressive in and of themselves, with one in three failing to pass all the TAKS subject area tests in the fifth grade and almost that same amount for the eighth grade and just under one-half of the eleventh graders in the state averaged half. Yet the LEP scores still fell far below those scores for the state.

For the 2004 TAKS, all tests, at one SEM below, the fifth grade LEPs passed at merely a 27 percent. The state average was 62 percent, eight graders at 21 percent for the LEP, results for the eleventh graders was was an abysmal 24 percent versus the state average of 32 percent. These gross disparities in achievement reflect the State’s neglect of educating our LEP population.

The State went so far as to claim that these abysmal pass rates for LEP were practically expected, that it wasn’t an alarming outcome for them, LEP children are supposed to perform poorly because the children are what they are, they’re limited in English language, no matter exactly how poorly they performed.

But the funny thing is that the only LEPs who take the TAKS test, whether in English or Spanish, are the LEP children who have been cleared to be ready to take the test by their language proficiency advisory committee, people who have evaluated the children and said yes, they’re ready to take the test. So only the more prepared, the more competent LEPs are taking the TAKS test, but are still failing because of the insufficient funding provided by the State.

And the State also attempted to argue that LEPs are mostly immigrants, they just got here into this country, and that is, you know, partly attributable to the poor performance by LEPs in Spanish taking the test. Yet over 50,000 of the 200,000 students who took the RPTE were here in the U.S. at least five years, and 70 percent of those students had been here at least three years.

Now, when the State has provided additional resources to school districts above and beyond the weights, LEPs have shown that they can close the gap. Looking at the third grade test results the superintendents and state witnesses testified that when substantial additional resources would being poured in, the achievement gap between LEPs in all students tested and the state average was reduced considerably.

For the 2002-2003 school year, the LEPs taking the English version scored at 72.1 percent, passing all tests, and on the Spanish test passed at 72.7 percent, only 12 points behind the state average. For the 2003-2004 school year, all tests passing rates were not available, but looking at the reading in March administration, 82 percent of the LEPs met the one SEM standard on the English version. And for the Spanish grade three reading, 83 percent met the one SEM, versus the state average of 91 percent. And the math test scores reflected only 5 percent difference on the English test and 10 percent difference between LEPs and the state average on the Spanish test.

So yes, money can and does make a difference. But for most of the other grade levels, superintendent after superintendent testified how they needed tremendous amounts of additional resources to address the needs of the growing LEP population.

Dr. Forgione, Dr. Moses, Dr. Sconzo of the West Orange-Cove plaintiffs voiced these concerns, as did each of the Edgewood superintendents from the focus districts. They expressed concerns about needing funds to recruit and hire certified bilingual ed teachers, to train all Teachers and administrators to work with LEPs, to have smaller class sizes to address the needs of LEPs, summer school remediation programs, instructional resources and assessments, full day programs for preschool aged children.

Even Commissioner Neeley, herself, testified that she established 12 newcomer centers throughout her district to address the needs of recent immigrants. Most of our districts can’t afford the costs for these types of centers, with the limited bilingual funds provided by the State.

And the lack of sufficient bilingual funds also is reflected in the high dropout rates for LEP students and the pitifully low graduation rates. Taking the State numbers as is for the 2001-2002 school year — even though there has been evidence offered in this case which clearly showed that those numbers are severely underestimated and in fact, misleading — the LEP graduation rate was a mere 53.4 percent compared to the state average of 82.8 percent. And the four-year dro

p out rate was 20 percent compared to the state average of 5 percent.

Each and every school district and the bilingual experts testified that they were unable to provide all of the elements required for an adequate bilingual education for students within their districts, even with additional federal funds.

And the State seems to expect the federal government to supplant rather than supplement their duty to educate the children. The TEA bilingual director, herself, stated that the State without federal money would need to increase the weight to at least .3 in order to provide the eight elements of an adequate bilingual education. That’s rising from a .1 to a .3, clearly showing that the bilingual weight is insufficient.

Each of the bilingual experts and superintendents testified that the needs of bilingual students are in addition and different from the needs of economically disadvantaged students. The needs of a child who does not speak English in the home are very different from the needs of a child coming from a low income family.

The teaching methods required are different. The materials required are different. The literacy coaches required are different, among many other differences. One must caution that the group of limited English proficiency students is growing and is expected to grow and the population of LEP children in Texas has now climbed to 15 percent of children in Texas, almost one out of six.

So by failing to provide a constitutionally adequate bilingual education to our children, we’re also failing our communities and our state.

And a few will attempt to explain the achievement differences. Among its experts, the State called Dr. Armor, the State’s hired expert witness, who said that, on average, minorities and economically disadvantaged children and LEP children cannot achieve at the same levels as whites. Even with additional resources, Dr. Armor stated that minorities and children in poverty cannot achieve at the same level as whites.

And in his analysis he controlled for LEP and economically disadvantaged students. But in our standards in Texas, we don’t control or allow for different standards to meet the TAKS standards, whether you’re black or white or brown. You just have to meet them.

Another thing that Dr. Armor mentioned was that high poverty and LEP at the secondary level have a much higher likelihood that they will drop out and leave our system. And the overwhelming evidence in this case also showed our State’s failure to provide an appropriate and adequate compensatory education weight in order to provide for our at-risk children to have access to meaningful opportunities through a quality education.

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