Grant Rules Push for Common Criteria for ELL Pupils

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 26, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

States that join together to apply for federal funding to create English-language-proficiency tests as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative will have to agree on a common definition for English-language learners and criteria to determine when such students must leave special programs to learn English.

Under final regulations published last week for a $10.7 million grants competition to enable state consortia to devise a new generation of tests, participating states must apply an exact definition to identify students as English-language learners and reclassify them as proficient in the language. The notice was published April 19 in the Federal Register, and states have until June 3 to apply.

The federal government already requires the two consortia crafting assessments pegged to the common-core content standards to have a “common definition” for ELLs. Those two consortia are the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The new regulations appear to be a step further toward bringing more consistency to the instruction of English-language learners nationwide. (“Draft Rules Could Shift ELL Policies,” April 6, 2011.)

“It will be interesting to see how [English-learner] definitional criteria line up across states participating in different consortia combinations,” said Robert Linquanti, a senior research associate for WestEd, a San Francisco-based research and development organization, in an email. “Certainly, it’s going to force a national policy conversation on what we mean by [English learner], and this is a good thing.” He noted that some states, including California, haven’t standardized the definition for an English-language learner among school districts within their states.

Unlike regular English/language arts tests, which measure students’ mastery of skills typically taught in a mainstream English class, such as analyzing literature or applying reading strategies, English-proficiency tests measure student progress in learning to speak, listen, read, and write in English. They’re used to assess annual progress for ELLs in acquiring English, as well as to help educators decide when such students are ready to move out of ELL status.

In its notice last week, the U.S. Department of Education says only two consortia are expected to be awarded grants for the new English-proficiency tests.

The competition was narrowed to two awards, explained Carlos Martinez, the group leader for standards, assessments, and accountability for the department, because “that’s how far the money will go this round.” He said it’s possible that only one applicant will win the competition. “The dimensions of our request for applications is so big and there are so many new things on it, we wanted to make sure it was funded in a manner that would ensure success,” he said.

Unlike the draft rules published Jan. 7, the final regulations do not require consortia applying for the money to have a minimum of 15 states as members. Instead, the federal government will give an extra 15 points in reviewing applications for consortia that meet a 15-state minimum.

Mr. Martinez said the Education Department must honor what’s in education law and keep the competition open to single states that might apply, but he said the extra 15 points given to consortia with at least 15 states “is nothing to ignore.” He added, “We really want to encourage states to work collaboratively on this.”

Coordination Required

He said the department also expects the winners of the English-proficiency assessments competition to coordinate with the two consortia writing the content tests aligned with the common-core standards. The April 19 notice says winners of the grants to craft English-proficiency assessments are required to coordinate with the Education Department’s Race to the Top program and “actively participate in any applicable technical-assistance activities conducted or facilitated” by the department.

Diane August, a senior research scientist affiliated with the Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington-based nonprofit organization focused on improving the teaching of languages, said in an interview last week that it could benefit ELLs for states in a consortium to come up with a common definition and exit criteria but only if the standards used for English-language proficiency are “in rigorous alignment” with states’ academic content standards and assessments. She’s worried, she said, that states will set the criteria for ELLs to exit special programs too low.

“One of my concerns is that if you have a lot of states participating, to get buy-in, you compromise,” she said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2011 edition of Education Week as Grant Rules Require States to Develop Common ELL Criteria


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

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 Ron DeSantis Is Running for President. What Will That Mean for K-12 Schools?
DeSantis has solidified himself as a force on school policy. His campaign will likely influence the role education plays in the election.
6 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during convocation at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., on April 14, 2023.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during convocation at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., on April 14, 2023.
Paige Dingler/The News & Advance via AP
Federal Cardona Defends Biden's Education Budget and Proposals on Student Debt and Trans Athletes
House Republicans accused Education Secretary Miguel Cardona of indoctrinating students and causing drops in test scores.
4 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a ceremony honoring the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2023 Teachers of the Year in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 24, 2023, in Washington.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a ceremony honoring the 2023 Teachers of the Year at the White House on April 24, 2023. He appeared before a U.S. House committee May 16, 2023, to defend the Biden administration's proposed education budget and other policies.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Book Bans and Divisive Concepts Laws Will Hold U.S. Students Back, Secretary Cardona Says
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona participated in a summit this week that drew international education leaders to the nation's capital.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
Alyssa Schukar for Education Week
Federal Opinion The Lies America Tells Itself About Black Education
'A Nation at Risk' created a faux crisis to usher in the right's education agenda, argues Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
President Ronald Reagan is flanked by Education Secretary Terrel Bell, left, White House Policy director, during a meeting in the Cabinet Room in Washington, Feb. 23, 1984 where they discussed school discipline.
President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, left, during a meeting in the Cabinet Room, Feb. 23, 1984, where they discussed school discipline.