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School District Says State in Violation of No Child Left Behind

THERMAL, Calif. - Coachella Valley Unified School District trustees decided to sue the state, claiming California's performance testing system violates the federal No Child Left Behind Act and is unfair to the district's English language learners.

The seven-member board voted unanimously Thursday to retain three law firms to file suit challenging the English-only testing of children who speak little or no English. About 82 percent of the largely Hispanic district's 15,000 students speak little or no English.

The district, which serves Coachella, Indio, Thermal, Mecca, Oasis and the Salton Sea, contends students are wrongly called failures.

"Every time we test a child in a language that's not their native language, we give them a grade that doesn't belong to them," board president Anna Rodriguez said. "We're saying they don't know anything when they may be brilliant children."

The district had also considered a lawsuit against the federal government over President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

"But No Child Left Behind has started to implode itself, so we're letting it run its course to see what happens," Superintendent Foch "Tut" Pensis said, referring to protests from state legislatures nationwide demanding fundamental changes in the act.

"Right now, our most immediate concern is California," Pensis said.

The district, which is on a failing school district list because too few students measure up to progress goals required by the No Child Left Behind Act, contends its students are doomed because they are required to take English proficiency tests before they've learned the language.

A district lawyer, Marc Coleman, said that's a violation of the No Child Left Behind Act, which specifies how testing of students with limited English proficiency should be handled.

The act requires states to provide English language learners "reasonable accommodations" such as native-language versions of tests, and allows students to be in U.S. schools for three years before being tested in English in the areas of reading and language arts.

"California has decided only to test them in English, and they don't have a prayer of succeeding," Coleman said.

The district's lawsuit will ask the state to allow students to become proficient in English before testing them in English, Pensis said.

"We're asking the state to follow the (federal) law," he said.

Coleman, who said the suit would likely be filed next month, said he believes the district would be the first in California to sue the state over its English-only testing mandates.

— Associated Press
San Luis Obisbo Tribune


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