At Issue with ELLs: Marking Progress Under NCLB

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 12, 2008 1 min read
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I learned a lot about challenges states face in tracking the progress of ELLs in English by reading the U.S. Department of Education’s “interpretation” of some of the No Child Left Behind Act’s provisions for such students. It was published in the Federal Register on May 2, and I wrote about its possible implications in an article, “Consistent ELL Guides Proposed,” published Friday at

One challenge I didn’t write much about in the EdWeek article is that states are struggling to report the progress in English of ELLs who haven’t taken their state’s English-language-proficiency test for two school years in a row. That would be ELLs who haven’t been in a school district for long enough to take the test twice.

Kathryn M. Doherty, a special assistant to Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon, told me in a telephone interview that states are excluding one-fifth to one-third of ELLs served by Title III programs in reporting progress because they lack “two data points” for those students. The notice in the Federal Register proposes that states come up with a way to include those students.

But the solution, according to Gary Cook, a research scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, isn’t simple. Mr. Cook explained that the tests, called “screeners,” that school districts use to place ELLs in special programs upon their arrival at a school typically aren’t very comprehensive and wouldn’t work well to be the first data point. Another option, he said, would be for a school district to give an English-learner the state’s comprehensive English-language-proficiency test as soon as he or she enrolls, and use that as the first data point. But that would mean that students might have to take the English-language-proficiency test twice in the same school year, and some students would have had more months to make progress in English than others before taking the test for the second time.

He added, “These batteries take longer, and then you have the student out of class [for a long time].”

Experts on ELLs whom I spoke with had a lot of concerns about the proposed interpretation. It will be interesting to see how much Education Department officials will alter the proposed requirements after hearing some of those concerns. They are receiving comments on it until June 2.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.