The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, today entered into a settlement agreement with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to ensure that the substantial number of Arizona's English Language Learner (ELL) students receive the educational services that they need. The Agreement requires ADE to revoke its one-question Home Language Survey (HLS), which failed to identify and serve all eligible ELL students, and reinstate its three-question HLS so that all potential ELLs are identified for assessment and service.
"This agreement highlights our commitment to ensuring that all ELL students receive the services they need to learn," said Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. "All students are entitled to equal opportunities, and this resolution will help to make sure Arizona students receive the education they deserve."
"Proper identification of ELLs is the essential first step in ensuring that students receive the services they need to help them overcome language barriers and participate equally in the instructional process," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. "We commend Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction and ADE for voluntarily agreeing to reinstate the three-question HLS and take remedial steps to identify ELL students who were missed by the one-question process."
With the cooperation of ADE and Arizona school districts, the Departments of Justice and Education conducted an extensive investigation of the state's policies and practices for identifying ELL students. Prior to July 1, 2009, ADE used a three-question Home Language Survey (HLS) that asked:
- "What is the primary language used in the home regardless of the language spoken by the student?"
- "What is the language most often spoken by the student?" and
- "What is the language that the student first acquired?"
Since July 1, 2009, ADE has allowed only a one-question HLS that asks, "What is the primary language of the student?" If a student answered English to this one question, ADE prohibited school districts from assessing the student's English language proficiency unless and until a teacher documented specific language problems on a form prescribed by ADE, and met with the parents in person to obtain their permission to assess the student.
In the 2009-10 school year, ADE reported almost 100,000 ELL students, which reflected a decline of approximately 33,000 students from the prior school year. School districts attributed at least part of this decrease to the one-question HLS. The federal government's investigation determined that the one-question HLS failed to identify and serve eligible ELL students in violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The investigation further revealed that the teacher referral process for the one-question HLS unnecessarily delayed the identification of ELL students, and therefore delayed ELL services, in violation of both laws.
The settlement agreement will ensure that all ELL students who attend Arizona public schools will be identified and served in a timely manner. Under the agreement, ADE will revoke its one-question HLS and its accompanying burdensome teacher referral process and reinstate its three-question HLS and prior HLS policies and practice of giving teachers more flexibility in referring students to be evaluated for English proficiency. ADE has agreed that an answer other than English to any of the three questions on the HLS will trigger timely assessment of the student's English language proficiency. In order to capture potential ELLs who are now registering for the 2011-2012 school year, ADE will send a directive to each of its local educational agencies in two weeks informing them of the reinstated three-question HLS, and explaining how to identify potential ELL students among those students whose parents already completed the one-question HLS. ADE will also train the local education agencies regarding these changes and monitor them over the next school year to ensure that they are appropriately administering the three-question HLS.
As a result of the settlement agreement, new students in Arizona schools who are ELL students will be timely identified, and students who were improperly identified as non-ELL students will be identified and offered ELL services.
The enforcement of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and Title VI are top priorities of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt. Enforcement of Title VI is also a top priority of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Additional information about the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is available on its website at www.ed.gov/ocr/.