By Cathy Grimes
January 5, 2007, 3:50 PM EST
NEWPORT NEWS — With four months to go before Virginia’s public school students take federally and state-required Standards of Learning tests, the state’s Congressional delegation wants some breathing room for English language learning students.
The Delegation asked U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling to give the state an extra 12 months to develop an alternative reading test for English language learning students that would fairly assess their reading skills.
The federal education department told Virginia to stop using the alternate reading test it used until Spring of 2006 because the test was not aligned to state reading standards.
The previous test, called a proxy, measured a student’s English fluency. In October, the State Department of Education voted to use a portfolio-style test — similar to that used by special education students – to measure the reading ability of students with very limited English skills and non-English speakers.
But teachers and administrators said they did not have enough time to train people to collect and evaluate the material needed for the portfolio, which must be completed by the end of the spring testing period.
Virginia’s Congressional delegation, led by Republican Sen. John Warner, agreed, arguing that “… halfway through the current school year it is logistically impossible for Virginia to develop, test and train personnel in a new assessment for use in April 2007.”
The letter to Spelling, signed by the state’s two U.S. senators and Congressional representatives, says a large number of school districts will fail to meet annual student learning improvement targets, called adequate yearly progress, which are required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Such a failure would be contrary to the federal law’s goals, the delegation said. A year would give the state enough time to develop a new test for students with limited or no English proficiency, which would be used in spring 2008.