Federal

Education Officials Back Down on Some Proposed ELL Mandates

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 17, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Bowing to complaints from state officials and advocates for English-language learners, the federal government has published a final—and more flexible—“interpretation” of how states should carry out the section of the No Child Left Behind Act that applies to such students.

In particular, the Department of Education backed off on what critics saw as overly rigid rules for measuring and reporting whether students are learning English under Title III of the law, which authorizes funds for English-language-acquisition programs. (See “Consistent ELL Guides Proposed,” May 14, 2008.)

Officials from 24 states submitted comments urging the department to soften the proposal, which—while not a formal regulation—effectively determines how states are expected to implement Title III.

“We did take very seriously the feedback we got from states and advocates of limited-English-proficient students. We have made some adjustments,” said Kathyrn M. Doherty, a special assistant to the Education Department’s deputy secretary, Raymond J. Simon, in a meeting this week with state officials who oversee ELLs.

Ms. Doherty laid out the expectations of the final interpretation in a nearly two-hour session at the meeting. She stressed that how well states follow the interpretation will be a factor when the department monitors their compliance with Title III.

The department’s May 2 draft proposal would have required states to use the same criteria for deciding whether English-language learners are proficient in English under Title III as they do in deciding whether a child is defined as an ELL under a different section of the law. That other section, Title I, applies to disadvantaged students, a category that includes many ELLs.

Officials in California—which educates about a third of the nation’s 5.1 million English-language learners—submitted strongly worded criticism of that proposal. (See “Proposed ELL Guidelines Criticized as Too Rigid,” Education Week, June 11, 2008.)

The proposed interpretation suggested “a completely new way” of defining English-language-proficiency goals under the law, wrote state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and California state board of education President Theodore R. Mitchell.

Other Californians expressed concern that the proposed requirement would lead to so much standardization that school districts would no longer have the discretion to rely on parent input and teacher judgment in deciding when students should leave programs.

Revisions Made

In the final interpretation, published Oct. 17 in the Federal Register, the Education Department merely “strongly encourages” states to match the two criteria. Ms. Doherty said she would like to see states standardize criteria among their districts for when ELLs are proficient enough to leave programs, even though the final interpretation doesn’t technically address that.

In addition, the federal government backed down on a proposed reporting requirement under Title III.

The department’s draft proposal would have required states to find a way to report students’ progress in learning English even for those students who had not taken their state’s English-language-proficiency test twice.

Ms. Doherty said the federal government was looking for ways to ensure that the states report progress for all ELLs. The final interpretation permits states to continue to leave out students who have not taken the tests twice.

New Requirements

Federal officials did stick by some requirements in their earlier proposal.

States will not be allowed to “bank” from one year to the next the test scores of English-language learners who pass one of the four areas of their state’s English-language-proficiency test: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. States must give students all four sections of the test each year until they pass all of them at the same time.

Also, in setting targets for ELLs, states will only be allowed to consider how long those students have been enrolled in English-language programs, not factors such as students’ grade level or what stage they are at in learning English.

State officials at this week’s meeting generally saw the revisions as an improvement, despite the new requirements.

Steven A. Ross, a Title III consultant for the Nevada Department of Education and the president of the National Association of State Title III Directors, was pleased that federal officials were willing to allow some flexibility.

With a new administration on the horizon after next month’s election, “I would have followed the parts [of the original proposal] that are convenient and I would have probably procrastinated where I could,” he said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week as Education Officials Back Down on Some Proposed ELL Mandates


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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
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
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

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

Federal How a Big Federal Spending Package Could Affect School Meals and Student Poverty Counts
Legislation to expand access to free school meals highlights a persistent concern: how to improve the ways we identify students in poverty.
6 min read
Food service assistant Brenda Bartee, rear, gives students breakfast, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, during the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Fla.
Food service assistant Brenda Bartee, rear, gives students breakfast, last month on the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal Feds to Probe Whether Texas Ban on School Mask Mandates Violates Disability Rights Laws
The Education Department has already opened investigations in six other states that ban universal school mask requirements.
2 min read
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
A staff member holds the door open at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas in 2020. This year, Texas has prohibited school districts from requiring all students to wear masks.
Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via AP
Federal New Federal Team to Work on Puerto Rico School Improvement, Oversight
The Puerto Rico Education Sustainability Team will focus on creating better learning environments and improving financial management.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Teresa Canino Rivera/GDA via AP
Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP