Helping English Language Learning Students in Texas, Without the High Stakes

Helping English Language Learning Students in Texas, Without the High Stakes


By Representative Mary González

As a State Representative and educator, I have heard horror stories from parents on how anxious their children become just before test day. Some to the point of sickness. In a recent poll conducted by the Texas State Teacher Association, 87% supported less standardized testing – and I’m with them.

The issue with current mandated testing in Texas are the high-stakes attached to them. These high stakes have an even greater effect on English Language Learners (ELLs). ELLs are more likely to have to repeat a grade, graduate late, or be placed on low-track remedial education programs. And in the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 29 percent of ELLs scored at or above the basic level in reading, compared with 75 percent of non-ELLs.

Under the current system, standardized test scores of ELL students are held accountable no matter the student’s English proficiency or the amount of time they have spent in Texas public schools. The students’ test scores then affect their school’s accountability ratings. Both students and schools lose in this situation.

Several studies have shown that it takes 4 to 7 years for ELLs to become proficient in academic English. Although about 80% of ELLs are native speakers of Spanish, ELLs speak about 400 different home languages total.

This year, a significant portion of my legislative agenda was aimed at clarifying and improving testing protocol for recently immigrated students. One of those bills, House Bill 2004, would define a school year as sixty consecutive days. If a recently immigrated student who spends more than sixty consecutive days in a Texas public school, that student would qualify for a one year exemption from state-mandated exams. If a recently immigrated student spends less than sixty consecutive days in Texas public schools, that school year would not towards their one year exemption.

Not only do these students bear the stress of moving between countries, but they must grasp a new language with limited transition time into a new school. To top it off, we push them into a high-stakes, standardized testing system that not only affects their learning and ability to achieve, but puts high pressure on parents, teachers, and administrators. It has even thrown entire school districts into disarray.

All six of the school districts I represent have a limited English proficiency enrollment of over twenty percent. In the 2011-2012 school year, the Texas Education Agency showed 54,000 immigrants with limited English proficiency enrolled in Texas public schools. Currently, 1 in 9 students in U.S. classrooms are of limited English proficiency. That number is projected to rise to 1 in 4 students by 2025.

Through HB 2004, we give schools a chance to integrate ELL students without the pressure of an immediate, high stakes standardized test. Defining a school year sets a clear standard for testing exemptions and will give more recently immigrated students time to learn English. It will also give us a foundation for future improvements.

HB 2004 has now been voted out of the House and the Senate, and is very close to reaching the Governor’s desk. Which means we are one step closer to making education policies relevant to the day-to-day lives of English Language Learning and immigrant students, parents, and educators– not just along the border– but all across Texas.


Mary 2_1 Representative González represents the most eastern part of El Paso County. Mary has dedicated her life to promoting social change through her community engagement, professional experiences and academic background. Mary received her Bachelor Degrees in History and Mexican American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.  In 2009, she received her Master of Liberal Arts with a concentration in Social Justice from St.Edward’s University.  Currently, she is pursuing her Doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction- Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Texas at Austin. She has been recognized by as the “Hot 25 under 25” most influential young Latinos in the country and in Latino Leaders Magazine for her leadership in education.