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Guide for Monitoring Limited-English Students Issued

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Asserting that many states and districts are failing to provide limited-English-proficient students with needed services, the Council of Chief State School Officers has issued guidelines for assessing and monitoring language-minority children.

The guidelines, issued this summer, include a definition of limited English proficiency and a model for identifying and monitoring L.E.P. students in the schools.

Such standards are needed, the C.C.S.S.O. said in releasing its guidelines, because states operate under a patchwork of different procedures for identifying and placing limited-English-proficient students.

Many state education-agency personnel are "really limited in their capacity to put forward policies related to the needs of L.E.P. kids,'' said Julia A. Lara, who had a key role in developing the report as the co-director of the C.C.S.S.O.'s Resource Center on Educational Equity.

State personnel are hindered, Ms. Lara observed, because "they have limited information, not only in terms of numbers of students, but also in terms of the educational status of the formerly L.E.P. students who were mainstreamed into the English-only classes.''

Ms. Lara said the chiefs' council issued its recommendations so that states and districts can develop more-accurate assessments and be "better poised'' to provide L.E.P. students with appropriate instruction in both language and content areas.

A Framework for Policy

The council's recommendations were developed by an advisory committee of officials from the U.S. Education Department and state education agencies, experts on the education of L.E.P. students, and representatives from advocacy groups.

The C.C.S.S.O. formally adopted the committee's recommendations last November and published them in the new report, which the council is promoting as a framework for developing state and federal policy.

The council said it found in conducting research for its report that the lack of common procedures and standards for assessing and placing L.E.P. students has an especially harmful effect on students who become reclassified or lose access to services when they move to other districts or states.

The current lack of a common definition of an L.E.P. student also deprives many students of assistance, the report contends, because states and localities cannot provide reliable estimates of their L.E.P. populations to guide the distribution of federal funds.

States frequently fail to identify students in need of services because they neglect to obtain information from students in their native language or do not take steps to ensure that the information provided by students is accurate, the report maintains.

Lacking common standards for determining which students need language-assistance programs, states often base their selection of criteria on other factors, the report suggests. These include political concerns, such as the need to maintain various funding levels; legal issues, such as equity requirements; and practical considerations, such as the supply of qualified bilingual teachers or teachers of English as a second language.

While nearly two-thirds of the states collect information on the number of students who are retained or drop out of school while in language-assistance programs, the report notes, fewer than one-third collect figures on the number of L.E.P. students placed below grade level or have mechanisms for monitoring the academic status of L.E.P. students after they have been placed in English-only classes.

In its discussions with state education-agency personnel, the C.C.S.S.O. found that students "were lost in the system'' once they had been moved from language-assistance programs into English-only programs, Ms. Lara said.

"No one knew how they were performing academically,'' Ms. Lara said, adding that as a result the effectiveness of the language-assistance programs they had been through was difficult to gauge.

Limited Proficiency Defined

The council proposed common standards for defining "language proficiency'' and "fully English proficient'' based on four language skills: reading, listening, writing, and speaking.

A limited-English-proficient student, the council said, is one who has a language background other than English and lacks the degree of English proficiency necessary to have the same chances of success in an English-only classroom as an academically average or above-average English-background peer.

The recommendations include a proposed model for identifying and appropriately placing L.E.P. students and for assessing and monitoring their progress while they are receiving language-assistance services and afterwards.

The model includes five distinct but interrelated steps: screening; using separate assessments to classify, place, and monitor the academic progress of students and reclassify them if necessary; and collecting data for monitoring the success of students during and after their placement in language-assistance programs.

Screening procedures should ensure that all students who might need language services are identified, the council urged, while classification procedures should identify all students who do not have the necessary skills in reading, listening, writing, or speaking.

New Screening Procedures

The council recommended that federal and state officials work together to develop a set of screening instruments and procedures to be used across states and within districts.

Federal policymakers also should support studies that seek to equate and norm all tests currently recommended for local use in assessing L.E.P. students, the chiefs urged.

In addition, the report calls on the National Center for Education Statistics to annually collect school-level counts of L.E.P. students and include in its figures all students identified as limited English proficient--not just those served by federal programs for L.E.P. students.

On the state level, the committee recommended that education agencies develop strategies to correct flaws in services for L.E.P. students. States with similar needs should work together to develop appropriate measures for assessing proficiency in English and native languages and content-area knowledge, the report proposes.

At the district level, the committee suggested that all local school systems be required by states to administer accurate and uniform home-language surveys to all students soon after they register.

School districts also should establish comprehensive computer data bases for tracking the placement and progress of their L.E.P. students and consider using a computer network to quickly transfer records when an L.E.P. student moves, the report indicates.

Copies of the report can be obtained for $6 each from the Council of Chief State School Officers, 1 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001; (202) 408-5505.

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