Arizona Sues Feds

K-12 Testing

The Arizona Department of Education sued the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in July to continue a 2003 agreement permitting schools to wait three years before including scores of English language learners (ELL) in determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.


Federal education officials rescinded the agreement last year and said Arizona must include the ELL students' scores after only one year, a change that would increase by about 50 percent the number of Arizona schools deemed failing to make AYP. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, seeks the right to continue to use the three-year delay specifically when considering appeals from schools listed as not making AYP.


Arizona has a large number of ELL students, about 150,000, most of whom speak Spanish. The challenge of getting enough students to score proficient on state tests is made even greater by a law passed by an Arizona voter initiative in 2000 (and promoted by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne) requiring that students be taught, and therefore tested, entirely in English. NCLB permits testing in a student's native language for the student's first few years, which some other states do.


The case provides a peek at some of the horse-trading that goes on when states approach the DOE seeking flexibility on NCLB. According to an Associated Press report, Arizona had been among the states being considered for a pilot program that would give credit for student growth, rather than demanding students meet specific targets by specific deadlines. Though recommended for the pilot program by peer reviewers, the DOE eliminated Arizona from consideration because of the ELL score dispute. AP quoted Horne referring to the state's rejection from the pilot program, "We made the final cuts on the merits but I wouldn't let myself be blackmailed."