Education

Study: Most ELLs Are in Districts That Fall Short of Federal Goals

By Lesli A. Maxwell — May 11, 2012 7 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

CORRECTION AND UPDATE: The Ed. Dept. wants to make clear that this report is not the “biennial” update to Congress mandated by federal law. This report was independently commissioned by the department. I regret my misunderstanding. The 2008 biennial report will be published later this month. And the 2010 biennial report will probably be out by the end of summer.

Most of the nation’s English-language learners were enrolled in school districts that failed to reach all of their accountability goals for that group of students in the 2008-09 school year, according to a national evaluation of the federal program that supports English-language-acquisition services.

While more than half of the school districts that receive federal funding to support programs for ELLs reported meeting all their academic goals in 2008-09, those districts served only 39 percent of the total ELL population. And, in that same school year, only 10 states achieved all of their accountability goals for English-language learners under the No Child Left Behind Act.

“It’s the most comprehensive report we’ve seen and it gives us a very good snapshot in time of both how far states and districts have come to develop and implement the requirements of Title III,” said Kathleen Leos, who was the director of the Education Department’s office of English-language acquisition during President George W. Bush’s administration. “But it also tells us how much further they need to go to change the actual achievement results for English-language learners.”

Those findings are part of a long-awaited evaluation of Title III—the section of the NCLB law that authorizes federal aid to states and local school districts for English-language-acquisition programs. They provide the most comprehensive picture to date of the overall academic progress of the nation’s 5.5 million English-language learners, the fastest-growing subgroup of students in America’s public schools. The Title III study was conducted by researchers at the Washington-based American Institutes for Research and released today by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report found that states and school districts have made major strides in developing and putting into practice systems with defined standards for English learners and assessments for measuring results, although there is wide variability in how the states define who an English-language learner is and what constitutes academic progress for such students.

“Over the decade, there has been a great deal of activity and change that shows how Title III has prompted states and districts to pay a lot more attention to both the language and the content needs of this population,” said James Taylor, one of the report’s authors. “But meeting the needs of this population is still a work in progress.”

The evaluation of the $732-million-a-year Title III program found that “states and districts are largely complying with the major provisions of the law.” Nearly all states reported that they have aligned English-language proficiency standards with state content standards in at least one core subject and that they have also linked state English-proficiency tests with their proficiency standards.

But the researchers also noted large variations in how states and school districts define which students are English-language learners and when they have reached the point of proficiency.

In all but eight states and the District of Columbia, local districts have discretion in how to identify ELLs. In the same vein, only 19 states had established consistent criteria for school districts to follow to determine when students no longer need English-language-acquisition services.

Still, one English learner expert notes, the report found that states and school districts have made significant progress in developing and putting into practice more consistent systems for serving English-learners.

“If you go back just 10 or 15 years, most states had no English-language proficiency standards and offered a long menu of different types of English-proficiency assessments that were completely non-comparable,” said Robert Linquanti, a senior research associate with WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research and development organization. “The other reality is that you had districts who did not assess these kids annually or even look at how they were doing for years, and there was no real focus on the relationship between the development of English-language proficiency and their progress on academic subject matter.”

Raúl González, the director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza, said the report demonstrates that states and districts have focused attention on English-language learners in a way that is creating a “demand for better products and services for these children.”

But he described states and districts as still largely in an “R and D,” or research and development, stage of figuring out the best materials and instructional strategies to use.

“States and districts realize they need better programming, but they are still struggling to find it,” he said.

Roughly half of the school districts reported that they lacked good information on research-based curriculum and instruction for English learners.

The 40 states that fell short of making all three goals in the 2008-09 school year were not required to report on which ones they failed to meet.

The 10 states that did meet all accountability goals in all three areas for ELLs—known as “annual measurable achievement objectives,” or AMAOs—were Alabama, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Under the rules of Title III, each state sets its own specific AMAOs, which are goals for progress in learning English as measured by results on English-language-proficiency exams, attainment of fluency in English, and demonstration of ELLs’ proficiency on state content tests in reading and mathematics.

That’s a slight setback from the last update on Title III. In a series of research briefs on Title III that were released by the Education Department in May 2010, analysts said that 11 states met their accountability goals for English-language learners in the 2007-08 school year.

At the school district level, 80 percent of Title III districts reported that they had met their first two goals: making progress in learning English and attaining English proficiency. Sixty-four percent of them reported that they had also reached their third goal by making adequate yearly progress for the English-language-learner subgroup on state reading and math assessments, as well as other indicators such as attendance and graduation rates, according to the study.

But one-third of Title III districts—which collectively served about one-half of the ELLs that receive Title III support nationwide—reported in 2008-09 that they had missed one or more of their goals for English-learners for two or four consecutive years, which subjected them to accountability actions such as developing improvement plans and notifying parents of their status. In those districts that fell short for two or four consecutive years on their goals for ELLs, 71 percent also were identified for improvement or corrective action under Title I of the NCLB law.

The AIR research team interviewed Title III and assessment directors in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, conducted a nationally representative survey of more than 1,500 school districts receiving Title III funds, and used data collected in case studies of 12 Title III districts in five states.

Other major findings in the report include notable differences in Title III per-pupil funding levels among the states, even though the funds are disbursed by formula. In 2009, for example, Pennsylvania allocated $457 per student at the high end, compared with Alaska’s $86 per-pupil allocation on the low end. California, with the nation’s largest population of English-learners, allocated $115 per student in that same year. Those disparities, the report explains, stem in part from the formula’s use of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey rather than reports of English-language learner enrollment from state education agencies. Officials in just nine states said they believed the resources provided by Title III were adequate.

How states handled their Title III funding has drawn federal scrutiny off and on since NCLB was enacted.

The report also found that in the 2009-10 school year, 74 percent of Title III districts reported having 100 percent of their teachers serving English-learners “fully certified” to do so. But nearly the same percentage of districts said that the “lack of expertise among mainstream teachers to address the needs” of English-learners was a “moderate or major challenge.”

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


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP