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Education and Civil Rights Groups Send Letter to Biden Education Transition Team, Urging Them to Protect English Learners by Postponing Proficiency Testing

WASHINGTON -

To ensure that students who are learning the English language are not forced into schools for the sole purpose of testing their proficiency, and that parents be provided an option in their native language, and to withdraw from testing if they do not feel safe sending their children to school, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and several other organizations sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden’s education transition team today. The letter asks the education transition team to prioritize issuing guidance for State and Local education agencies to make sure all students can maintain their health and well-being. 

The groups are asking the education transition team to:

  • Develop and provide clear guidance for state and local education agencies describing an opt-out protocol for English learner students who cannot take tests like the WIDA ACCESS safely; 
  • Make certain that those who opt out of in-person proficiency testing will not suffer any consequences; 
  • Use other appropriate and reliable information to measure an English learner student’s proficiency for placement;  
  • Not seek sanctions against any state and local education association for failing to English proficiency tests to students who opt out; and 
  • Allow state and local education agencies to postpone testing until the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, if necessary.

“No student should be forced to choose between their health and well-being, or taking a test that will determine their proficiency in learning the English language, especially during an unprecedented pandemic,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “These tests can wait. Students of color who comprise the vast majority of English learner students have already been disadvantaged by remote learning and are under immense levels of stress. We cannot accurately gauge their progress right now by forcing them into schools that have been closed due to health risks.”

Beyond the imminent health risks imposed on English learner students and their families and teachers during in-person assessment, the pandemic’s compounding stressors also adversely impact these students’ learning, which may influence their assessment results. In addition, many schools have moved to remote learning as a result of the pandemic. Forcing students to attend schools that have been closed due to health risks solely for testing will likely only raise stress levels for students, impacting the validity and reliability of their assessment results.

English learner students comprise about one in ten public school students, and would face significantly greater risks if required to be present for an in-person proficiency test. 

“LULAC knows firsthand the significant obstacles Latino English-learner students are facing during this pandemic,” said Sindy Benavides, LULAC chief executive officer. Throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, COVID-19 is ravaging our communities while parents are struggling to make ends meet. We must do everything possible to protect students' health and not expose them unnecessarily to COVID-19.”

Other organizations signing on include the Center for Law and Education, Education Law Center (NJ), Education Law Center (PA) Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), LatinoJustice/PRLDEF, Lawyers for Civil Rights, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META), National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), National Association of English Learner Program Administrators (NAELPA), Native American Disability Law Center, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Youth Law, TESOL International Association and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.  

Read the full letter here.

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The Lawyers’ Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar’s leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity – work that continues to be vital today.

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