Arizona to Stop Monitoring Grammar, Accents of ESL Teachers

In exchange for the Federal Government dropping a civil-rights complaint against Arizona, the state has agreed to stop monitoring the fluency of its English teachers. Arizona has claimed that its monitoring program, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, makes sure that teachers use proper grammar and pronunciation, is a requirement of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, but a complaint filed in 2010 claimed that the program led to discrimination against non-native English speakers.

In November, federal officials told Arizona that its fluency monitoring may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against teachers who are Hispanic and others who are not native English speakers.

The agreement with the U.S. Department of Education would still allow schools districts and schools themselves to oversee the fluency of its ELL teachers. Arizona superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal said that the state will continue to advise district officials about their teachers’ ability to speak grammatically and articulate fully.

The monitoring program was initially put in place as part of the implementation of the NCLB. The program’s aim was to improve passing numbers on the standardized tests for ESL students. Monitors initially deployed to the schools founded multiple instances of teachers speaking in Spanish during class and even using Spanish-language teaching materials.

When The Arizona Republic reviewed class monitoring reports in 2007, it also uncovered issues with teachers speaking ungrammatically and with heavy accents.

Examples of concerns included a teacher who asked her English learners “How do we call it in English?” and teachers who pronounced “levels” as “lebels” and “much” as “mush.” Last year, federal officials found monitoring reports that documented teachers who pronounced “the” as “da” and “lives here” as “leeves here.”

In the past several years, the monitoring program was overseeing up to 60 districts, with 5 to 10 of them found to have issues with ESL teachers. The solutions suggested by the program included additional language classes and time with fluency coaches, according to Creighton Elementary School District director Susan Lugo:

“We offered them assistance with classes for grammar and pronunciation,” Lugo said. The classes were free. Five of the teachers continued to struggle, and Creighton transferred them out of English-learning classes and into regular classes.

To ease the federal concerns that the program is targeting foreign-born teachers, the state has agreed stop evaluating fluency as part of the program, and to allow schools to self-report the fluency levels of its teachers.