Source: Californians Together

Students from Hoover School in Redwood City participate in SEAL, which stands for Sobrato Early Academic Language, a K-3 literacy program that researchers for the study point to as effective for English language development.

In a new report, advocates for English learners sharply criticized school districts’ failure to explicitly commit money and adequately address students’ language needs last year in their initial Local Control and Accountability Plans. The report listed actions that districts should take and cited model programs that they could adopt to fulfill the LCAP’s goal of supporting underserved students.

“Falling Short on the Promise to English Learners: A Report on Year-one LCAPs” is one of several studies by researchers during the last six months that point to weaknesses in school districts’ first-year LCAPs (go here, here, and here). The report, released last week, is the first to focus exclusively on how LCAPs dealt with the state’s 1.4 million English learners. It was produced by researchers for Californians Together, a coalition of organizations focused on needs of English learners, and Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Equity for English Learners.

The report’s authors acknowledge that some of the problems they cited could be attributed to the newness of the accountability plans, a compressed time period for writing them and guidelines “that were weak on guidance related to English learners.” Since last year, the State Board of Education has revised the LCAP template, making it easier to use and strengthening some reporting requirements regarding English learners, low-income children and foster youths – the three groups that are targeted for additional money under the state’s new finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula. The new template, for example, requires districts to address how they will implement the new English language development standards.

The report’s release comes six weeks before the deadline for districts and charter schools to approve this year’s LCAP, which includes an update section for analyzing how well districts succeeded in meeting the commitments made in last year’s document. The authors warn that failings of the initial LCAP will be “a harbinger of things to come” unless the state provides clearer guidance and districts commit to doing a better job of engaging English-learner families and to adopting “research-based” approaches to English learners. English learners, who comprise 23 percent of the state’s students, have lagged significantly behind other student groups academically, with higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates and lower standardized test scores.

The report analyzed LCAPs in 29 districts that serve a third of English learners in the state. Along with districts with the highest numbers of English learners, researchers examined a half-dozen districts identified for providing quality services for English learners.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In most LCAPs, it’s difficult to identify money allocated for English learner services, particularly at a school level. Other studies have identified similar transparency issues.
  • Few districts included how they planned to address the new English Language Development Standards, and most did not identify professional development plans in the new standards.
  • Only about a quarter detailed programs and services for English learners, such as courses specifically for long-term English learners, defined as students who after six years in school are struggling academically and not progressing toward proficiency in English. Districts also didn’t distinguish between ongoing programs and new programs for English learners. State regulations require using the extra money for English learners to increase and improve programs and services.
  • Few LCAPs said whether recommendations of the advisory committees of English learner parents were included.
  • Other than using the same benchmarks of academic progress for all students, broken down by subgroups, districts did not include language proficiency goals for English learners. LCAPs did not distinguish among English learners, such as setting specific goals for those scoring advanced and early advanced on district benchmark language proficiency assessments, the report said.

During the next four months, the State Board of Education will consider adopting a set of evaluation rubrics, which will be performance standards applying to all school districts as part of the state’s new accountability system. Some will be locally developed; others will be uniform state requirements. They might include high school graduation, dropout and attendance rates or the percentage of students satisfying four-year college entrance requirements that all districts eventually must meet.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together, said that the current standards being considered are oriented to English speakers. What’s needed, she said, are metrics measuring the progress specifically of English learners. One might be a district’s target to reduce the number of students who, after four or five years in school, have shown little growth in English proficiency and risk becoming long-term English learners.

The report says the state has the responsibility to set targets for English learners and monitor progress toward achieving them. But it also recommends that districts adopt a set of English learner, research-based rubrics as a resource that parents, administrators and teachers can use to determine the strengths and limitations of their districts’ programs for English learners.

The report singled out three model programs that a few districts included in the LCAPs.

  • Los Angeles Unified includes metrics and courses for long-term English learners that emphasize real-life applications, study skills, critical thinking and enrichment activities. The LCAP includes funding for teacher training.
  • The El Monte City School District, in collaboration with Loyola Marymount, offers Journalism for English Learners, an intensive after-school program for students in grades 3 to 5 at risk of becoming long-term English learners. The students produce a newspaper.
  • Three Bay Area districts use Sobrato Early Academic Language, or SEAL, an approach for Spanish-speaking K-3 students that integrates the Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core and social studies standards during the school day. An outside evaluation found students in the program consistently outperformed similar comparison groups in areas related to language and literacy.

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  1. Victor Martinez 12 months ago12 months ago

    Can you tell me if the Oakland Unified School District was included in the report and also whether the OUSD is one of three using the SEAL? Thank You.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 12 months ago12 months ago

      Victor: Californians Together did not release the names of the districts in the report.
      You can see from the list of districts that Oakland Unified is not using the program.

  2. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    A large part of the problem spotlighted in this article stems from the fact that LCFF has dropped much of the SACS reporting codes with LCFF. Or, put another way, local control means it is the responsibility of the constituency of a district to hold it local leaders accountable instead of the state. This is, in essence, what State defendants in Cruz v California maintain. The problem goes much deeper than only ELL's, as … Read More

    A large part of the problem spotlighted in this article stems from the fact that LCFF has dropped much of the SACS reporting codes with LCFF. Or, put another way, local control means it is the responsibility of the constituency of a district to hold it local leaders accountable instead of the state. This is, in essence, what State defendants in Cruz v California maintain. The problem goes much deeper than only ELL’s, as if that isn’t bad enough. If you look at p.6 of the West Ed report linked in the article it says “in 2013-14 base grants were set aside at $7,675 for each student in k-3….” That’s not factually correct. The district received that money based upon head count, but that money wasn’t “set aside” for each student and it isn’t required to be under LCFF any more than supplemental grant money is guaranteed per pupil.

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    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      Rereading my comment, what I failed to make crystal clear is the idea that an allocation per pupil does not mean each pupil actually receives the funding at the school they attend. The district gets the funding based upon head count, but it is up to their discretion as to how they want to distribute it per pupil. What does "per pupil" mean? Is it only an abstract idea, that is, does the pupil actually … Read More

      Rereading my comment, what I failed to make crystal clear is the idea that an allocation per pupil does not mean each pupil actually receives the funding at the school they attend. The district gets the funding based upon head count, but it is up to their discretion as to how they want to distribute it per pupil. What does “per pupil” mean? Is it only an abstract idea, that is, does the pupil actually get served by that funding or is it merely a way to decide how much a district receives from the state? The answer is the latter, but it should be the former. To the extent that critics of LCFF say that some students, particularly those that bring in the supplemental and concentration grants funds, don’t get served by that money, that raises this larger issue: If a qualifying group of students bring in SC grants and are deserving of every last dollar, then by the same token, students who bring in base grant funding, that is all students, are also deserving of every last dollar. All 3 grants should follow the same rules. In practice, districts use base grant funding as discretionary funding. They under-support some students to over support others above and beyond the intent of SC grants, such as here in SF. More often some districts use SC grant funding to under support undups and reallocate for other purposes. Back during the categorical flexibility, Margaret Weston wrote a report in which, among other things, she made a case to distribute funding per pupil at the site level. She claimed that since categorical funds had effectively become general revenue funds, the state constitution ( Serrano case) had laid down a precedent for each student to be entitled to equal funding. Anyway, that is what I remember as her thesis, if I’m not mistaken. Local control should NOT equate to districts having full discretion to spend simply as they please. Some constituencies can get victimized by political agendas as here in SF.

  3. Beatriz Villarreal 1 year ago1 year ago

    The report singled out three model programs that a few districts included in the LCAPs, however, what about Parent training? If you don’t work with parents, everything that you try to do at school with them, will fail.
    Parents are the first teachers of the students and home is the first school…..Never forget that….

    Replies

    • Paul Muench 1 year ago1 year ago

      I’m in a bilingual family. Teachers have always told us not to worry about “getting it right”. Time and care can work wonders if they are available. Maybe schools can teach parents to be more effective with the time they have, but just want to add my two cents for getting started the best one can.

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