Advocating for English Language Learners under ESSA

With the December 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), education stakeholders have begun to examine how the law will impact different groups of students.

English language learners continue to be one of the fastest growing student populations in the United States, and experience unique educational challenges. Given that English language learners will be 25 percent of public school students by 2025, consideration of the implications ESSA may have on this particular population is essential.

How ESSA Will Impact ELLs

Under ESSA, English language learners and dual language students will experience some major shifts in the ways they are counted, classified, and supported. Title I of ESSA lists English languagAdvocacye development as a priority in statewide accountability systems. In a break from the way No Child Left Behind (NCLB) treated English language acquisition and accountability, ESSA’s Title I requires all schools to demonstrate they are improving English language proficiency of their ELLs. This means ELLs will have a substantial role in accountability systems, particularly in states like California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois, which have the largest concentrations of ELL students. The legislation alters the exclusion of ELLs from standardized tests, providing states with two options:

 
1. States can still exclude ELLs students’ results from accountability measures during a student’s first year in US schools, OR
2. Recent arrivals would not be required to take the ELA test, and the state would not have to count ELLs’ language proficiency scores in the accountability systems.

In year 2 states are required to use a growth measure for reading and math to be included in the accountability systems, and in years 3 and beyond, assessment scores for ELLs will be included the same way as all other students.

In terms of classifying students, ESSA requires states to have a standardized system for determining which students are ELLs, as well as clear processes for how ELLs enter and exit special services. This will translate to more consistency for ELLs, at least within a given state.

Lastly, when it comes to federal support, the news is good for ELLs: Under Title III, ESSA maintains the prior commitment from NCLB of federal funds to support language instruction for ELLs, but could increase funding by more than 20 percent by 2020, bringing it to a total of $885 million.

What Does This Mean for ELL Advocates?

As there is no longer a federal accountability system, states’ and districts’ accountability plans must work to ensure the educational rights of English learners. Delia Pompa of the Migration Policy Institute explains, “In the absence of strong central direction for accountability plans, [we must engage] all groups that have a stake in the success of English learners to ensure robust monitoring of how these students are faring academically.” To ensure a safeguard of the civil and educational rights of English language learners, state and community stakeholders must prepare for the shifts ESSA requires.

Recommended Action Items for Community Stakeholders:
● Engage in designing new processes and clearly articulate how accountability will work for ELLs.
● Understand current range of entry and exit criteria for ELLs within the state in order to recommend appropriate criteria moving forward.
● Determine optimal method of counting ELLs and make recommendations to state officials.

Recommended Action Items for States:
● Identify best practices in identification and classification that are evidence-based and tailored to state needs.
● Prepare to monitor performance of all English language learners and to intervene when poor outcomes are detected, as early as possible.
● Regarding the exclusion of ELLs’ outcomes in the accountability system, work to understand how ELLs would benefit from each option and how each option interacts with the state’s overall accountability system.

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

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