The ELL Report Congress Hasn’t Gotten

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 14, 2008 2 min read
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I know at least one person here in the nation’s capital who follows issues concerning English-language learners and at times has been as persistent as I have been in bugging the U.S. Department of Education for information: Don Soifer, the executive vice president for the Lexington Institute, in Arlington, Va., a conservative think tank.

Both Mr. Soifer and I have noticed that the Education Department has so far taken one extra year to prepare a two-year evaluation of programs for English-language learners than it took to prepare its previous evaluation on such programs. The two-year report to the U.S. Congress is required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress received the first two-year evaluation in March 2005. (See my March 23, 2005, article in Education Week)

Chad Colby, a spokesman for the Education Department, told me in an e-mail message yesterday, “The biennial report is being edited and should be ready by the end of the month. There were quality issues, as it related to the writing of the report, and editing priorities, which led to delays.”

It seems to me the information in this second report, based on data from the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years, will be rather out-of-date if and when this report is released.

Mr. Soifer, who is participating in an Education Department advisory group on ELLs, said he’s heard from department officials that some states had a lot of gaps in the data they submitted for the report. He said he’s gotten the impression the report won’t be released any time soon.

Mr. Soifer says he is dismayed to have learned that some states didn’t report a reliable statistic for the percentage of students they reclassify as fluent in English each year. “There’s this big question about how Congress could go about the business of reauthorizing this law when data that is so important is unknown,” he said to me in a telephone interview yesterday.

If reclassification rates for English-learners were 25-30 percent each year, he said, the lack of data wouldn’t be such a big deal, but since the rates tend to be less than 10 percent in many states, which he considers to be low, he said it’s important that such rates are reported to the public.

Back in August, Mr. Colby of the Education Department noted that release of the report was delayed because “there were submission issues from some states.” See “Where’s the Ed Department’s Evaluation of NCLB’s Title III?”

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