Eagle County: Must grads speak English? | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Must grads speak English?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” High school students in Colorado could someday have to prove they’re proficient in English before graduating.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require school districts to test a student’s English skills before handing out diplomas, and students who aren’t proficient in English won’t graduate.

The logic is that if students are to be successful in the United States, they need to have a basic understanding of English. Schools who let students graduate without those skills are doing them a disservice, the bill says.

“A student who graduates from high school without achieving competency in English will be severely hindered in his or her ability to be an active, productive, fully contributing member of the community, economically, socially, and politically,” says Senate Bill 98.

Such a law, if passed, would have big implications for Eagle County School District, superintendent John Pacheco says.

In his mind, the bill isn’t necessary and could end up costing the school district lots of money.

While there may be students at all grades with minimal English skills, students who make it to their senior year in high school already have a grasp of English to get passing grades, Pacheco said.

As for those students the bill is trying to find ” those who don’t understand English, who have a hard time functioning in the United States, and are then handed a diploma ” Pacheco says that’s not a problem in this school district.

“In all honesty, there aren’t many kids in that situation here. By the time they’re graduating from high school, they have to be proficient in English to pass their classes,” Pacheco said.

What the school district is left with then is more testing, which takes time and costs a lot of money, Pacheco said.

“We feel it’s an unfunded mandate ” another level of testing for kids with no funding behind it,” Pacheco said.

An English proficiency requirement would have an even bigger impact on charter schools like the New America School in Gypsum, which is geared toward high-school-age students who have more recently come to the country aged and are often just learning

There are many students at the school who wouldn’t be considered “proficient” on a language test, but who can speak English and function well in American society, Principal Kathy Brendza said.

An English proficiency requirement would deny a diploma to several smart, capable students, Brendza said.

“It’s highly unlikely that a student could become truly proficient ” read at grade level, write at grade level and speak at grade level if you’re talking about our age of students who are just starting to learn English,” Brendza said.

While Brendza agrees with the spirit of the law ” that English proficiency should be a goal for schools and students ” she doesn’t think it should be something mandated by the state.

“It’s one more hurdle, and these kids have enough hurdles,” Brendza said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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