Los Angeles Stops Using Math Skills as Criteria for English Fluency

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 02, 2007 2 min read
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Over the last few years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has succeeded in dramatically increasing the percentage of English-language learners who are reclassified as fluent in English each year, even though, on average, California school districts have not. One reason: Last school year the Los Angeles district dropped its requirement that for ELLs to be declared fluent in English, they had to reach an achievement bar in math.

The percentage of ELLs in Los Angeles who were reclassified as fluent in English during the past school year was 13.4 percent, up from 9.5 percent the previous year, and up from 2.1 percent during the 2002-03 school year. By contrast, since the 2002-03 school year, the reclassification rate on average for school districts across the state has increased to 9.2 percent, from 7.7 percent.

The district made several changes in the education of ELLs that helped to raise the reclassification rate, including giving professional development to almost all elementary-school teachers who have such students in their classrooms, according to Jesus F. Limon, the director of the language acquisition branch for Los Angeles Unified. Nearly 270,000 of the district’s 701,000 students are ELLs.

School district officials decided to drop the math criteria for determining fluency because it was keeping so many ELLs from being reclassified, Mr. Limon told me in a phone interview today. “Our philosophy is we need to get them reclassified and into the mainstream program. If you track them into English-as-a-second-language [classes], they keep falling behind.”

I first learned that ELLs’ math skills were a factor in reclassification in Los Angeles several years ago when I wrote about how a much higher percentage of ELLs were scoring proficient in English on the California English Language Development Test each year than were being declared fluent in English back in their school districts. See my article on this topic from 2004.

The discrepancy still persists across California.

This summer the California Department of Education released results for the California English Language Development Test for this past school year and once again the percentage of ELLs scoring proficient on the test is MUCH HIGHER than the percentage of such students being reclassified as fluent in English. The Sacramento Bee makes this point and gives a tidy overview of students’ results in a June 22 article. The article notes that 29 percent of English-language learners scored proficient on the test this past school year.

See my earlier post, “A Report Takes a Look at Reclassification in California.”

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