Some Medford School Board members are skeptical, but the board should allow a very few non-native English speakers to take high school graduation exams in their first language.
A rule change at the state level in 2010 requires local districts to decide by the end of this month whether to allow the native-language proficiency exams. Medford School Board members heard a first reading of a proposed policy change last week and will take up matter again soon. The Phoenix-Talent School Board adopted the new rule last year.
This is the kind of policy change that inflames anti-immigrant sentiment, but in practice very few students would be eligible. Only those students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for fewer than five years would qualify, and only if they met all other graduation requirements and demonstrated an intermediate proficiency in English.
Those who qualify would be allowed to take proficiency exams in all subjects in their native language and graduate high school if they passed.
As an example of the limited scope of the proposed policy, exactly one student at Phoenix High School qualified this year. Medford administrators estimate four or five students might qualify each year. That's out of roughly 700 graduates annually.
The alternative is to force those students to stay in high school only because their English isn't quite good enough to pass the exams, but they are proficient in all the necessary subjects. The assumption is they will continue to improve their English skills after leaving high school — a reasonable expectation.
Some school board members expressed concern that students would get the mistaken impression that they will be able to find a job easily without being fluent in English. It's unlikely any student would make that mistake.
Concerns that the policy would diminish the value of a high school diploma might be valid if many students were affected, but this applies to only a handful of students.
In any case, students who are otherwise proficient enough to graduate wouldn't get much benefit from staying in high school longer just to study English — and would therefore be likely to drop out instead. That's not a desirable outcome either.
Most districts in the state are adopting the new policy. Medford should do the same.