from the office of State Senator Judith Zaffirini

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
512/463-0121
March 12, 2001

ZAFFIRINI BILL ALLOWS CHILDREN MORE TIME TO MASTER ENGLISH

The Texas Senate today (Monday) unanimously passed Senate Bill 676 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would exempt students with limited English proficiency from state assessment testing for up to three years.

The bill addresses the increasingly international student population in Texas schools. It ensures that recent unschooled immigrant students of limited English proficiency have adequate time to become proficient in English before taking the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. Because many teachers and administrators do not believe the current one-year exemption allows students enrolled in a United States school for less than 12 months enough time to master English, Zaffirini filed the bill to extend the exemption to up to three years.

"It takes a child from three to five years to learn a language," Sen. Zaffirini said. "For this reason, immigrant students need more than one year to obtain English proficiency."

SB 676 targets students who have never been enrolled in a U.S. or any other school. It does not exempt limited English proficiency students who were born in the United States and have been enrolled in a U.S. school for more than 12 months.

"Teachers and administrators are held accountable for student TAAS scores," Sen. Zaffirini said. "Requiring students to take the TAAS before they are linguistically ready sets them up for failure and results in school campus scores that do not reflect accurate levels of student achievement."

The bill requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop procedures by which a school's language proficiency assessment committee would determine students to exempt from the TAAS and to ensure students are tested at the earliest practical date. It ensures that changes in the number of TAAS-exempted students will be a performance indicator for each school.

Witnesses who testified in favor of SB 676 included representatives of the Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, South Texas Association of Schools, Texas Association for Bilingual Education and Region One Education Service Centers.

Senators Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, and Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, are co-authors of SB 676, while co-sponsors are Senators Mario Gallegos, D-Houston; Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; and Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.

"Recent unschooled immigrant students must adapt to a completely new lifestyle and culture." Sen. Zaffirini said. "We should not expect them to become proficient in English in 12 months. By allowing these students the extra time they need, we nurture their dreams of success in careers as varied as doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners or legislators."

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