Parents Offer False Information on Language Surveys to Help Kids Avoid “English Learner” Classification

An article written by Amy Taxin of The Associated Press and appearing in the Sacramento Bee (Parents Lie on Language Survey, 11/17/14) discussed how some parents do not always tell the truth on their children’s school language surveys. The California public school system provides a simple home language survey for parents of kindergarteners, which is intended to identify “English Learners” and give them extra assistance in learning English.

The survey asks what languages are spoken at home, and many parents choose “English” even when that is not their primary home language. According to census data, almost 44 percent of California residents age 5 and older speak a language other than English. The most common language is Spanish.

Parents who speak a language other than English at home do not want their children labeled as “English Learners,” because they fear that this designation will hold them back in school. They feel that their children should not be separated out from native English-speaking children, and worry that their children could miss out on learning opportunities if this occurs. Educators, on the other hand, say that failing to identify English Learners properly can violate federal laws guaranteeing access to education, and prevents the children from receiving the language assistance they need.

There are no easy answers for this situation, and parents who believe strongly that their children not be labeled will continue to indicate that their children and family members speak English at home, even when they do not.

Even though children of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) families can assimilate into school as English speakers, their parents and grandparents often still struggle with English and require translation into their primary language in order to read and understand education, health care and legal materials. They may also prefer to read other written documents and information in their primary language, even though they read and write some English.

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