FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 20, 2013
General Counsel & Press Secretary
AUSTIN — Today, a bill by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) supporting recent immigrant students in Texas public schools has moved to the Governor's desk. The bill would ensure that these student have adequate time in Texas schools before being required to take state-mandated tests.
"Immigrant students face incredible challenges in public schools, particularly if they are students of limited English proficiency. In addition to lacking mastery of English, many have limited schooling prior to enrolling in Texas schools and thus have significant deficiencies in reading and writing. It is difficult for these students to learn English while also being expected to master subjects taught in the classroom. These difficulties are most pronounced when we ask students to perform on stressful high-stakes tests," said Senator Lucio.
Senate Bill 377 by Senator Lucio provides that unless a recent immigrant student has been enrolled in a school in the United States for at least 60 consecutive days during a year, that student may not be considered "enrolled" for purposes of taking state-mandated tests, including the states' STAAR exams.
This bill provides the Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidance on when recent immigrant students are exempted from state exams. The Texas Education Code already provides that a student may be granted a one-year exemption from state assessments if they are a student of limited English proficiency ("LEP") as defined by the Code, that is a student "whose primary language is other than English and whose English language skills are such that the student has difficulty performing ordinary classwork in English." The intent of this exemption is to allow students time to integrate into U.S. schools before being held accountable to state exams.
There is no provision in Code, however, defining what number of days would constitute an entire school year. Thus, under current law, a student could be enrolled as few as one day in a U.S. school and that one day would count as a year in the state's assessment system. With passage of Senate Bill 377, if a recently-immigrated student spends less than 60 days in Texas public school in a school year, that school year would not count toward their one year exemption under the Code.
Senate Bill 377 may have a tremendous positive impact on Texas public schools. Many school districts in Senator Lucio's senate district — including Brownsville, Donna, Edinburg Consolidated, Hidalgo, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School Districts — have LEP populations of more than 30 percent, according to data provided by TEA. TEA reports that more than 120 languages are represented in Texas schools. While the majority of LEP students speak Spanish, other prominent languages include Vietnamese, Arabic, and Korean.
Senate Bill 377 was sponsored by Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso), who filed a companion bill, House Bill 2004.