The CORE Districts began in 2010 as a collaboration across school districts exploring ways to improve teaching and learning. In 2013, several school districts in the CORE consortium received a federal waiver from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind law and are working together to develop a new School Quality Improvement Index to provide more and better information about schools and the learning needs of students. The process for creating the Index has been challenging and complex, including finding the best way to measure success in reclassifying English learners as proficient in English. In this piece, San Francisco Unified Superintendent Richard Carranza, who is a member of the CORE Districts Board of Directors, explains how they dealt with this issue.
Part Three: Measuring Success with English Learners
Nearly 1.5 million students in California – almost one in four public school students – aren’t fluent in English. Here in San Francisco, more than 16,000 students are learning the English language. Research shows that if they don’t become fluent within a certain time period, they won’t have access to college prep curriculum, will be two to three years behind in math and English language arts (ELA), and are likely to have a GPA that’s lower than 2.0. This huge achievement gap between native English speakers and those 1.5 million English learners was the primary motivation for the CORE districts to include an English learner metric as an important element in the new School Quality Improvement System.
The need to have the Index include the rate at which schools and districts reclassify English learners as proficient was an easy decision to make, but harder to implement than we expected. Most school accountability models don’t include reclassification rates at all. While most districts track the rate, the number is just a reported statistic, but is not included in how schools or districts understand or measure their performance.
Devising a measure that worked across all CORE districts, while serving students best and avoiding the unintended consequences of reclassifying students at the wrong time, was no easy task. To tackle the problem we brought together policy, assessment and data experts from our school districts and looked at the English learner reclassification method used by the state. California’s rate is determined by looking at the total number of students to reclassify in a particular year, divided by the total number of English learners enrolled the year prior. This calculation didn’t work for us, however, because it doesn’t highlight the time it takes to reclassify.
Research indicates that after five to seven years of instruction, students should develop the skills necessary to be reclassified as Fluent English Proficient, meaning they no longer need additional support in the classroom. In California, an English learner is considered “long-term” when he or she has received six years of U.S. public school instruction in the United States and still is not proficient in English.
After much discussion, we landed on a five-year marker as the point at which English learners should be reclassified as English proficient. Even though not everyone initially supported it, the CORE districts came to this decision for a few reasons.
First, there’s the practical timing aspect. If you’re reclassifying elementary age students past five years, most students will have moved from elementary to middle school, and we wanted to ensure that all schools were jointly responsible for this work. Additionally, shedding light on kids at the five-year mark allows for earlier intervention, because once past that six- or seven-year mark, kids are almost destined to never catch up academically, and are more likely to never be reclassified.
If the five-year point allows for early intervention, one could also argue a four- or even three-year goal would be even better. Research doesn’t support this, however, and finds that students often need five full years of language support before they can be reclassified. Our challenge was designing a system that provided an incentive for schools to reclassify their English learners as quickly as possible, but did not encourage them to do so before students were ready.
So in mid-2014, the CORE districts decided we would determine the reclassification rate by calculating the number of students with more than five years of U.S. instruction who are reclassified as fully proficient English learners, divided by the total number of long-term English learners and reclassified students. (Year 5-plus Reclassified Fluent English Proficient (RFEPs)) ÷ (Year 5-plus ELs & RFEPs)
This formula would allow us to remain agnostic around how quickly students should be reclassified within the first five years, but say definitively that students needed to be reclassified when they began their sixth year in our schools.
This made sense to us as a reasonable compromise to get to our goals. However, after reaching out for more feedback from district staff, parents, teachers and others, we became aware of significant concerns. Some thought the formula was not transparent, and that it was too complicated and difficult to understand. They also worried that some schools might move in the opposite direction. Schools might feel they had less of an incentive to reclassify as quickly as possible if they wouldn’t “get credit” for reclassifications that took less than five years, regardless of how quickly they moved students.
In the spirit of continual improvement, we went back to the drawing board, reworked the formula and eventually came to what the CORE board voted to adopt in late 2014. To obtain a meaningful English language learner reclassification rate, CORE districts would count all the English learners who are reclassified at a school site in the current year, regardless of their years of U.S. instruction, and divide them by the number of all the English learners who are reclassified at a school site in the current year plus all those English learners who, after five years, were not reclassified at that school.
For example, if an elementary school reclassifies 10 English learners during the school year, but has one English learner with more than five years of U.S. instruction, the school’s rate would be calculated as 10 ÷ (10 + 1) = 91%. And that school, with a 91 percent reclassification rate, would be considered a high-performing school, at least on this metric.
In contrast, an elementary school that reclassifies 10 English learners during the school year, but has eight English learners with more than five years of U.S. instruction, would have a reclassification rate calculated as 10 ÷ (10 + 8) = 56% and would be regarded as an average-performing school on this metric.
We believe this formula provides valuable information and appropriately holds us responsible for reclassifying English learners who have more than five years of U.S. instruction, while crediting schools with any reclassifications made in less time than that. This method also encourages schools to reclassify students in a timely manner, without creating incentives for reclassifying too early or later than desirable.
This metric will be part of the larger School Quality Improvement Index score that will be published for the first time later this fall. It is still far from perfect. While our districts agreed on a five-year marker, there are still those who would have rather aligned with the state and kept a six-year marker.
There have also been questions as to the overall legitimacy of the English learner metric score, because each district uses somewhat different criteria to determine if a student is ready to reclassify. Districts use multiple state-required measures, as well as other local district-determined criteria. For instance, in San Francisco we also consider teacher evaluation for English learners who demonstrate basic skills in English Language Arts in addition to proficiency on the state’s English language development test. But a similar argument could be made for our graduation rate metric, as districts have differing graduation requirements.
While most of the concerns surrounding the English learner metric have been resolved, our districts and schools remain challenged by issues such as which school to give credit to when a student reclassifies in the fall after transferring to a new school. We chose to align with the state’s approach of associating students with the school that completed the reclassification, but this remains contentious because many students who are reclassified in the fall do so based on test performance from the prior school year.
In the end, we are proud of the fact that school districts in CORE have voluntarily stepped up to hold ourselves accountable for the timely reclassification of English learners. We know that we have more work to do and, like everything with our new system, it is a work in progress. But we hope that this work to identify high-performing and struggling schools will result in shared learning and, ultimately, improved student learning. We look forward to being part of a larger conversation around how best to serve our English learners in a high-quality accountability model.
Richard A. Carranza is a CORE Board Member and Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.
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Louis Freedberg 8 years ago8 years ago
The Smarter Balanced test scores underscore the critical importance of California reclassifying English learners as quickly as possible -- and the need to put this issue at the forefront of California's education reform agenda. Two thirds of English learners fell into the "did not meet standards" category -- perhaps not surprising, given the challenges of taking a test in a language one is not proficient in. The fact that the LCFF is … Read More
The Smarter Balanced test scores underscore the critical importance of California reclassifying English learners as quickly as possible — and the need to put this issue at the forefront of California’s education reform agenda. Two thirds of English learners fell into the “did not meet standards” category — perhaps not surprising, given the challenges of taking a test in a language one is not proficient in. The fact that the LCFF is targeting additional funds on English learners for the first time is a huge step forward — and should provide districts with more resources to get all kids to a proficient level in English much more quickly (without forcing anyone to abandon their competency in their native language). Five years seems like a reasonable target to set. If a student is still not speaking English after five years in a California school, then new strategies are called for.
Manuel 8 years ago8 years ago
Mr. Freedberg, your comments seem very reasonable. But just because the "Supplemental" and "Concentration" grants are given on the basis of the unduplicated number of English learners, poor students, and foster status students does not mean that more resources are available over previous years. Nor that the funds are earmarked directly to address the needs of those students by the districts. LAUSD is a perfect example of that. For the 2014-15 year, then Superintendent Deasy earmarked … Read More
Mr. Freedberg, your comments seem very reasonable.
But just because the “Supplemental” and “Concentration” grants are given on the basis of the unduplicated number of English learners, poor students, and foster status students does not mean that more resources are available over previous years. Nor that the funds are earmarked directly to address the needs of those students by the districts.
LAUSD is a perfect example of that. For the 2014-15 year, then Superintendent Deasy earmarked only $22 million out of a combined $800 million in S&C grants for English learners (154,110 of them according to LAUSD’s own records). Superintendent Cortines more than tripled that amount to $74.6 million for 2015-16. But that pales when compared to what was earmarked for Special Education ($449.9 milion) out of a total S&C budget of $1,063.3 million.
Yes, in a perfect world districts would make those funds available proportionally to English learners. But, since LCFF is not a product of a perfect world, districts will continue to distribute funds as they see fit regardless of the spirit of LCFF.
As for the use of different strategies after five years have passed, I think that is the wrong approach. What the state should be doing is to come up with the best possible strategy from the beginning, one that combines any and all methods available because every student learns a new language differently. Of course, this is only possible in a perfect world and we already know we are not there.
In five years, we will be back here or elsewhere talking about the same thing. After all, wasn’t Unz’ solution going to end the problem within a few years after passage? We still have the same number of English learners so that did not work too well. Deja vu all over again (may Yogi rest in peace).
el 8 years ago8 years ago
Over the years it has occurred to me that probably any student who was ever classified as an English Learner should have some additional support for her entire school career, even if she herself is fluent in English and now a high achiever. As she gets older, and starts looking to career support and college applications and financial aid, having parents who are not fluent in English (which is presumably how one becomes classified as … Read More
Over the years it has occurred to me that probably any student who was ever classified as an English Learner should have some additional support for her entire school career, even if she herself is fluent in English and now a high achiever. As she gets older, and starts looking to career support and college applications and financial aid, having parents who are not fluent in English (which is presumably how one becomes classified as EL in the first place) is still an obstacle. In addition, these students may not have family members to help with proofreading papers or other extra academic support. Giving these kids more attention from a school counselor or other mentor is important for them to be able to reach their full academic potential, even once they leave classification.
Manuel 8 years ago8 years ago
Mr. Carranza states that "Research indicates that after five to seven years of instruction, students should develop the skills necessary to be reclassified as Fluent English Proficient". It is my understanding that this is "on average," not that every English learner will be fluent after seven years no matter what. This number was known back during the fight over bilingual education in 1997-98 and was based, as far as I know, on research done … Read More
Mr. Carranza states that “Research indicates that after five to seven years of instruction, students should develop the skills necessary to be reclassified as Fluent English Proficient”. It is my understanding that this is “on average,” not that every English learner will be fluent after seven years no matter what.
This number was known back during the fight over bilingual education in 1997-98 and was based, as far as I know, on research done before the current frenzy over “accountability” based on standardized testing. I remember Krashen telling me that the Stanford 9 norm population sample included a ridiculously low percent of English learners (can’t remember the exact number but it was around 5%) and was split about equally over urban, suburban and rural students. That sure did not match California which at that time had more than 30% English learners, a number that has not changed much since then.
So, if the research says that some students will take longer, why is there this insistence on defining a “drop dead” date shorter than the “average?”
If this deadline is to be met, how do we know if the districts are actually providing the resources necessary to increase fluency? Let’s not forget that the ACLU had to take the state to court to force it to provide services to English learners. Also, given that the aims of Prop. 227 failed miserably (“teach English in English” they said), when will schools be allowed to use bilingual education methods again? Asking schools to increase students’ fluency while forbidding them from using research-based methods to do so is counterproductive.
Let’s also not forget that many districts in the state are under threat from the Office of Civil Rights about the lack of services to native speakers of non-standard English. How about their English fluency?
I also have to agree with louise that the fluency problem is tied closely to poverty as is likely that a poor child will have little access to reading materials in English. That’s why Krashen has always advocated increasing the number of school libraries and access to them. Alas, the biggest member of CORE, LAUSD, has decimated school libraries at all levels with unparalleled zeal in recent years under the cover of “we have no money and we are not required by the EdCode to provide that service.” Maybe the EdCode has to be revised to make this happen.
louise 8 years ago8 years ago
The longterm EL problem is really a poverty problem. In order to address the problem, you have to accurately represent it through language. Otherwise, you are just throwing money, resources, and reflection at a fiction.