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As accountability for student progress in California becomes more local, a new report focuses on how school districts can better educate their English learners – calling on administrators to embrace biliteracy, provide a rigorous curriculum and train all teachers in how to support language development in core courses, not just English language development classes.

The report, by Oakland-based advocacy group The Education Trust–West, also recommends that the state continue to provide more funds for these students for up to two years after they have become fluent in English. That way districts will not have the “perverse incentive” to keep the students as English learners – in many cases denying them a more rigorous curriculum – to generate more funds, the authors say.

Under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts receive extra funding for English learners, but that funding disappears when the students are designated as fluent.

The report, “The Language of Reform: English learners in California’s shifting education landscape,” reviewed the progress of English learners in 276 unified districts serving at least 100 of those students in 2012-13. Tables in the report include the data from all 276 districts.

Nearly one of four students in California is learning English, and 85 percent of them live in low-income households. They have more than 60 home languages, though 85 percent speak Spanish. “Too often,” the report authors say, “they encounter insufficient academic supports, ill-prepared teachers and less rigorous coursework.”

Nearly one of four students in California is learning English, and 85 percent of them live in low-income households.

The researchers found 11 districts “that break the pattern” with better achievement, language acquisition and reclassification patterns. Those districts, the report said:

  • Believe that students’ native languages are cultural and linguistic assets;
  • Offer professional learning opportunities and collaboration time to ensure all teachers are able to support English learners;
  • Offer English learners access to a full Common Core–aligned curriculum;
  • Engage parents and forge strong home-school connections.

The districts’ approach to achieving those goals varied considerably, said lead author Carrie Hahnel, adding that “there are multiple pathways to achieve success with English learners.”

“We did not see a clear pattern or a couple of interventions that are needed in order to achieve success,” she said.

The researchers used four measures to determine how well districts were doing: proficiency rates on the English Language Arts portion of the California Standards Test; annual progress on the California English Learners Development Test, which measures how well students can read, write and speak English; how many students have been classified as English learners for five or more years (called long-term English learners); and the rates at which students are reclassified from English learner to fluent English proficient.

The researchers also created a new category of students, called “Ever-ELs,” that includes English learners and those who have been reclassified as fluent. By looking at the performance of the two sets of students together, the researchers found, “we can better understand the complicated relationship between reclassification policies and proficiency for these two subgroups of students.”

“We need to divorce access to classwork from reclassification,” said lead author Carrie Hahnel.

Reclassification policies can be particularly troublesome to evaluate, the researchers found, because districts are given a lot of leeway in deciding when a student is ready to be reclassified.

Some districts reclassify students quickly, making them eligible for a more rigorous curriculum but perhaps denying them the language support that they need, the report said. Other districts are slow to reclassify, perhaps denying access to stronger coursework, but not necessarily doing so. Those districts could simply be keeping students as English learners so they can continue to provide language support as the students access a Common Core-aligned curriculum.

“We need to divorce access to classwork from reclassification,” Hahnel said.

The report recommends that the state create clearer, more uniform reclassification standards and guidelines, given that the English learner label “can sometimes be a barrier to rigorous coursework and a college-going pathway.”

“If we have a single statewide approach to reclassification and know the criteria and standards, then we have a common understanding as to what it means to move from one label to the other,” Hahnel said.

The report also calls on districts to ensure that their Local Control and Accountability Plans include specific goals for English learners regarding academic achievement, English acquisition and reclassification. The authors also want districts to report test data separately for students who have been English learners for five years or more. In addition, they say, data should focus on student progress, not just overall proficiency.

As the new Smarter Balanced tests based on Common Core State Standards are being implemented, districts should closely monitor their impact on English learners, the authors say.

“It is essential that linguistic barriers related to testing are identified and addressed before high stakes are attached to test results,” they said.

 


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  1. ann 2 years ago2 years ago

    None of the 11 districts are sited as using bilingual programs to improve outcomes. The recommendations for Common Core, ELD and Next Generation are mere predictions since we have no outcome data for these or for that matter LCAPs.

  2. ann 2 years ago2 years ago

    How many of you actually went to the study? I would call it a marketing survey. It conclusions seem to have little evidential support. Especially the "bilingual program" recommendation which has a single source, a study first published in April and last updated in August that used ELL programs in San Francisco Unified and focused mostly on reclassification, which I would argue, is a rather subjective process. Even so the results show marginal differences … Read More

    How many of you actually went to the study? I would call it a marketing survey. It conclusions seem to have little evidential support. Especially the “bilingual program” recommendation which has a single source, a study first published in April and last updated in August that used ELL programs in San Francisco Unified and focused mostly on reclassification, which I would argue, is a rather subjective process. Even so the results show marginal differences and don’t seem to make a strong case for overturning 227 which is the actual goal of these activists, I mean ‘researchers’.

  3. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    In practice, it seems likely to me that the majority of kids who are english learners and disadvantaged for being so are also going to get LCFF bonus money for being socioeconomically disadvantaged. Thus, although people may perceive a financial disincentive for reclassification, I think it's not really there. An issue not mentioned in the article above is student attendance and student churn, two factors that IME can be quite large factors for student reclassification and … Read More

    In practice, it seems likely to me that the majority of kids who are english learners and disadvantaged for being so are also going to get LCFF bonus money for being socioeconomically disadvantaged. Thus, although people may perceive a financial disincentive for reclassification, I think it’s not really there.

    An issue not mentioned in the article above is student attendance and student churn, two factors that IME can be quite large factors for student reclassification and learning, no matter how excellent the school program is. Do the more successful districts keep their ELL students longer? Do they have better attendance? If they do, to what extent is this attributable to solutions implemented at the school that can be copied, and to what extent is it just good luck in their student populations?

  4. Jim Mordecai 2 years ago2 years ago

    The researchers found 11 districts “that break the pattern” with better achievement, language acquisition and reclassification patterns. Those districts, the report said: Believe that students’ native languages are cultural and linguistic assets; Offer professional learning opportunities and collaboration time to ensure all teachers are able to support English learners; Offer English learners access to a full Common Core–aligned curriculum; Engage parents and forge … Read More

    The researchers found 11 districts “that break the pattern” with better achievement, language acquisition and reclassification patterns. Those districts, the report said:

    Believe that students’ native languages are cultural and linguistic assets;
    Offer professional learning opportunities and collaboration time to ensure all teachers are able to support English learners;
    Offer English learners access to a full Common Core–aligned curriculum;
    Engage parents and forge strong home-school connections.

    I have trouble with identifying a belief and implying that holding that belief such as “native languages are an asset” is transforms a group to higher test scores. But, this is not a person’s belief but the belief of a complex concept such as a School District.

    I am also troubled by the claim that “full Common Core-aligned curriculum has magical power.

    O.K. engaging parents is good thing. But, capacity for engagement depends on many variables including economic, family stability and involvement in the prison system to name a few that can make broad generalizations meaningless.

    If this study boils down to school districts with greater assets have greater outcomes, what a waist of time.

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