Inside the World of California’s Reclassification Rates

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 18, 2008 2 min read
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In California, most English-language learners are reclassified as fluent in the language in 4th through 6th grades, with another large group reclassified in 8th and 9th grades, according to a paper about California reclassification rates released this week by the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank in Arlington, Va. The paper, “The Education of Jaime Capellan: English Learner Success in California Schools,” synthesizes information from various reports about the progress of California ELLs in learning English.

You may have noticed that the Lexington Institute keeps a close watch on reclassification rates of ELLs in California. In May 2007, the institute put out another report on the same topic, and implied that, on average, school districts should be reclassifying more students than they are. Don Soifer, the executive vice president for the institute, has told me he puts a lot of stock in reclassification rates and he’d like to see the rates for all 50 states readily accessible to the public. (For someone who believes that reclassification rates can easily be misunderstood by the public, see a comment by James Crawford, long-time writer about ELLs, published on an earlier blog post.)

The executive summary of the report released this week points out that while 29 percent of ELLs scored as proficient or above on California’s English-language-proficiency test in 2007, only 9.2 percent were actually reclassified as fluent in the language—and thus considered ready to keep pace with regular students in regular classrooms without special help. The report points out that the English-learners in California who ARE reclassified as fluent in English do better than native-English speakers on a variety of standardized tests.

Both last year’s and this year’s reports by the Lexington Institute about reclassification rates were written by Joanne Jacobs, a former columnist for Knight Ridder who writes an education blog,, that gets a great deal of readership. In her take of the report, she laments that some English-learners become “lifers” in the category. For the record, I really hate to hear people apply that word to students. I want to see them get out of the category, too, but because the word usually refers to incarcerated criminals, it carries for me a connotation that the students themselves have done something wrong rather than that their schools might have failed them.

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