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Learning to Speak the Language
A student’s English language proficiency affects his or her school experience in fundamental ways. This holds especially true for English Learner (EL) students, whose life trajectories are shaped by how effectively teachers evaluate their proficiency in academic English and content knowledge.
EL students need time to develop language proficiency before they can fully benefit from instruction in English and perform well in the classroom and on content assessments. EL students are often seen as a homogenous group requiring the same type of support and intervention. This could not be further from the truth. These students come with a variety of capacities and needs. It is important to remember that EL students speak more than one language, they are multicultural, and have rich educational and life experiences that can greatly add to classrooms. They also have a variety of educational needs based on many factors, e.g., initial level of English proficiency, age and grade of entry into US schools, educational experiences in their home country, and family background.
Federal accountability provisions require states to establish accountability systems for English language programs in school districts that support EL students. (See Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.) If school districts do not meet accountability requirements, they must provide action plans on how they will improve their English language instructional programs. Federal law outlines three EL accountability requirements:
Unfortunately, current federal requirements exceed the technical resources of many states and districts. Most lack the capacity to analyze their data to determine criteria for student progress and performance targets. Also, there is little federal guidance on acceptable procedures for doing this.
Gary Cook is an associate research scientist at WCER working with WIDA, or World Class Instructional Design and Assessment http://www.wida.us/. He and his colleagues support educators, schools, districts, and states in setting and monitoring rigorous, yet reasonable accountability provisions for EL students.
Over the past several years, Cook and his colleagues have called for more coherence in state Title III accountability systems. One of Cook’s goals has been to examine states’ EL accountability systems and create statistical models that can support states’ compliance with federal guidance. Federal officials recognized the dearth in research in this area and have subsequently funded a study to examine these issues.
To that end, Cook and colleagues wrote a federal report that illustrates several methods state policymakers, standard-setting panels, and technical advisory panels can use to do this kind of work. The document addresses three questions.
Several statistical approaches are provided for each of the above questions. The goal of this report is to support the development and regular use of empirical methods to inform ambitious, realistic, and meaningful performance standards and accountability policies that will foster EL students’ linguistic and academic progress and attainment.
*Robert Linquanti, WestEd; Marjorie Chinen, American Institutes for Research; and Hyekyung Jung, American Institutes for Research.