by Elisa de León Gutiérrez • IDRA Newsletter • August 1997

In the past 30 years there have been many influences affecting bilingual education and English as a second language (ESL). The strongest of these are legal mandates enacted by Congress, the state legislature and the courts. There are other policies for implementing the “spirit of the law” through programs outlined in Chapter 89 of the Texas Administrative Code (19 TAC), Subchapter BB Commissioner’s Rules and Related Rules of the State Board of Education (SBOE). These are state plans for educating limited-English-proficient (LEP) students.

One might often find a leap in reality between these well-developed plans and actual instructional programs in schools, not unlike a person with a well-developed grocery list in the coat pocket yet a bare cupboard at home. Without the laws, court orders and rules to describe minimum requirements, however, there would be many inconsistencies from school to school.

These policies influence what is taught, how it is taught, how personnel are trained and licensed, how students are tested, what classroom materials are used, and how schools affect the prosperity of the state and country. Currently, the official descriptions of what is taught for required and enrichment courses are being updated by task forces of educators representing various areas of the state. The updated standards are the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

At the State Board of Education meeting in April, a task force presented the proposed TEKS for Spanish language arts and ESL for kindergarten through 12th grade, which are included in state legislation regarding required curriculum (19 TAC Chapter 128). The proposal was a modification of the TEKS for English language arts and reading that had been filed during a previous meeting of the board.

The task force members included master teachers, representatives from the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), representatives from universities with certification programs and other educators. They emphasized the fact that LEP students go through stages of language acquisition that are not related to the students’ intellectual capabilities nor their abilities to use higher-order thinking skills. They also stated that their proposed TEKS are not “watered down” versions of the all-English curriculum.

In fact, the proposal adds materials on culture and the transferring of academic skills from the students’ first language to English. The proposal made constant references to current theory, research and practices. These are required courses for LEP students that assist their academic achievement. One would wish that TEKS for pre-kindergarten grades would have been included to provide guidance to teachers assigned to summer school programs in accordance with 19 TAC Section 89.1250 since these are mandated for LEP children under by the Texas Education Code.

Colleges, universities and regional education service centers will complement the TEKS with pre-service and in-service staff training. When textbook publishers respond to proclamations by the State Board of Education with textbook bids, they, too become part of the instructional team by providing guidance on pedagogy in teacher guides. This “how to” assistance will change as educational research evolves and current information is confirmed on the important relationship of linguistically, affectively and cognitively appropriate components.

Another important policy area involves the testing of LEP students. This testing may be conducted for various purposes. Initially, students are tested to determine whether or not they should be assigned to bilingual education or ESL instruction. LEP students represent more than 100 home languages. Bilingual education is available for Spanish speakers and speakers of a few other languages.

Some students belong to smaller home language groups such as Kurds, Bosnians and Hindus. These students are sometimes assigned to the ESL program when certified teachers with knowledge of the student’s home language are hard to find. At a minimum, ESL is required in districts for groups of less than 20 students per grade.

However, ESL instruction alone is not an alternative for bilingual education. Current research describes the undisputed advantages of bilingual education for any student. Perhaps we will see a future where full bilingual programs for students of all language groups are available in this state.

Other informal testing, such as portfolio assessment, may be conducted for formative evaluation as instruction progresses. Summative evaluation is the state assessment required for graduation in Texas and graduation upon completion of the required secondary curriculum. The TEKS task forces were particularly sensitive to the need to provide secondary programs that help meet graduation and college entrance requirements.

Currently, all LEP students must take an appropriate state annual assessment. This may consist of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) in English or in Spanish or, if exempted, an alternative assessment. These students cannot be exempted from state assessments for more than three years.

Bilingual education and ESL programs protect students’ constitutional rights and increase academic achievement. Additionally, language learning has a significant impact upon the Texas economy. In March 1997, the Texas Department of Commerce reported a record $74.2 billion in exports from Texas to Mexico in 1996. This has increased by more than 25 percent from 1995. Exports include electronic equipment, industrial machinery and computer equipment, chemicals, transportation equipment, food, petroleum refining and related products, scientific instruments, and other goods and services. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts identified Brazil, Argentina and Mexico as the major importers of Texas goods. Other mushrooming markets may be found in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Language and marketing are inextricably linked. The importance of language skills to Texas’ success in the global economy ought not to be taken for granted.

Dr. Elisa de León Gutiérrez is the former director for the bilingual education division of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Currently, she serves as a consultant for the Arkansas Department of Education where she has written a state plan for children of limited English proficiency.

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]