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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 05/27/2010

How Arizona is checking teachers’ accents

By Valerie Strauss

More than 1,500 teachers in Arizona have already been evaluated to see if they can speak English fluently, and some have been found to have problems but none have been removed from the classroom, a state Department of Education official said.

It’s been in the news lately that Arizona school districts are under orders from the state’s Department of Education to remove from classrooms teachers who speak English with a very heavy accent or whose speech is ungrammatical. Evaluators go into schools to audit teachers on comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

I wrote recently about this issue, saying that students certainly deserve teachers whom they can easily understand, but the trick is in how to fairly judge who shouldn’t be in the classroom.

(I also reported on a study which concluded that students learn a second language better from a teacher who speaks in the same accent as they do.)

In an effort to learn more about Arizona’s initiative, I asked the department details on the history and evaluation methods.

Spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico said that the audits have been going on for a few years as part of an effort to comply with state and U.S. law. She cited the No Child Left Behind law, which requires that any district taking federal funds should certify that all teachers of English language learners must be” fluent in English and any other language used for instruction, including having written and oral communications skills.”

She provided this time line for English language instruction in Arizona, which has about 236 school districts, with 130,000-150,000 English Language Learners in K-12:

2000 - Arizona passed English for the Children - Proposition 203. All children in Arizona public schools must be instructed in English.

2003 - Arizona Schools Chief Tom Horne takes office and starts to make sure Prop 203 is being enforced in Arizona public schools.

2006 - House Bill 2064 - Arizona State Statute... Schools must teach 4 hours of structured English Immersion (for students whom English is their secondary language) and teachers also must have a Structured English Immersion endorsement [and meet the above federal requirement]

2008-09 school year - The Arizona Dept of Education monitored 73 School Districts. Seven of these were cited “for a fluency problem.”

Number of teachers observed: 1,529.
Number of teachers found to have pronunciation problems: 25

School districts are required to submit a plan to the education department about what they will do to help the cited teachers.

"Not one plan submitted by a school district talked of removal of the teacher," she wrote. Instead the plans said that professional development wouldl be provided to ensure the teacher is highly qualified....

2009-10 school year -- The education department monitored 61 districts and found 9 districts were cited for fluency.

Number of teachers monitored and cited for fluency issues is not yet known because the data is still being compiled and evaluated.

Rezzonico also sent a monitoring form with a list of questions evaluators must answer for each teacher who is assessed. It has a number of separate sections, including one called: “Teacher uses accurate grammar,” with the following instructions:

If the monitor hears incorrect use of grammar by the instructor, this constitutes a “NO” response.

If there are usage errors in grammar made by the instructor in his/her oral and/or written communication, this constitutes a “NO” response.

Monitors must document specific examples, as many as appropriate.

If you answer NO, you MUST provide documentation to support observation.

Another section is “Teacher uses accurate pronunciation” and has the following instructions:

If the monitor hears a message that is incomprehensive in English from the instructor, this constitutes a “NO" response.

If the monitors hear words used that are impeding communication, this constitutes a “NO” response.

If you answer NO, you MUST provide documentation to support observation.

I have asked the department for one of the reports from a school found to have problems to see how teachers' speech was actually evaluated. Stay tuned.


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 27, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Learning  | Tags:  arizona and teachers, arizona and teachers with accents, arizona monitors teachers with accents, arizona schools, arizona teachers, teachers and accents, teachers and accents and arizona  
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I once walked by an ESL teacher's room and heard her say, " Sheeldren, ju mas to see down." I don't know what horrified me more: that she mispronounced children, or you, that she left off the final t in sit, that she couldn't pronounce the short i, that she didn't know that the verb after must does not take to. Or that she was in an ESL position. This teacher who was a fine person was later assigned to a Spanish language position in another school.

Posted by: chelita | May 27, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

This article directly contradicts what Russell Pearce said in his interview. It seems that Arizona realized how bad it sounded when the nation found out that teachers were being criticized for accents. Russell Pearce specified that he thought these people to be "illiterate on English". Hmmmm.... can we say CYA??

Posted by: cr8zymomof4 | June 1, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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