Congress puts new spotlight on English learner performance

Congress puts new spotlight on English learner performance

(District of Columbia) Advocates for one of the fastest growing subgroups say one pivotal change called for in the Every Student Succeeds Act has gone largely unnoticed.

Under the new law, English learner accountability will be included as part of Title I – the section dedicated to the performance of students – instead of Title III, which dictates the allocation of funds for English language acquisition.

Although schools were already held accountable for demonstrating these students’ academic growth under No Child Left Behind, some believe the move to Title I emphasizes English learners as a priority.

Thus far, much of the focus has remained on college and career ready standards, the dissipation of NCLB waivers and less federal oversight of education decisions.

Previously, under NCLB, states were to make gains in the number or percentage of students making progress in learning English and attaining English proficiency, and make adequate yearly progress in order to receive Title III funds. Congress approved $737 million for Title III for the 2015 fiscal year.

Title I, under which states must now include English proficiency in their accountability systems, received $14.5 billion in funding for the 2015 fiscal year. If states do not show that English learners are making sufficient progress, more money is at risk of being withheld.

States do have more flexibility and decision-making power under the ESSA than they had under NCLB, and some advocates believe that could actually be more of a disservice to English learners. The amount of flexibility states have regarding how they assess English learners will allow for misrepresentation of progress, they say.

Unlike before, districts may administer assessments in a language other than English if doing so would more accurately depict a student’s academic knowledge without language barriers skewing the results. This decision would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, states can now exclude recently arrived English learners who have been enrolled in a school for less than a year from one administration of the English language arts assessment. By the third year, these English learners’ scores would have to be included in states’ performance ratings.

Others have expressed concern that proficiency will be determined by state-defined criteria rather than those mandated under NCLB, and that state agencies do not have the time or staff to develop valid and reliable criteria.

Proponents of the shift say that the changes will allow schools to better determine if a student understands the content, and that transitioning into traditional assessments will be a better indicator than immediately testing students in their second language.

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