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.