National News Tidbits About ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 20, 2010 2 min read
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Here’s a round-up of a few national news tidbits about English-language learners that I’ve been collecting at my desk.

Federal education officials have a “short list” of candidates to fill the post of director of the office of English-language acquisition in the U.S. Department of Education. That’s the office that handles policy for Title III, the section of the No Child Left Behind Act that authorizes funds for English-language-acquisition programs. Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the Education Department, said that federal officials have been interviewing candidates but he couldn’t tell me when someone will be named. Richard L. Smith as been acting director of the office since at least June 2008.

But even if someone is appointed by the Obama administration to head the office of English-language acquisition, it’s not clear if he or she would really be the key person to make decisions about ELL policy in the department. The main responsibilities for administering Title III were merged with the Title I office during George W. Bush’s administration. Since summer 2008, I haven’t been able to get anyone other than communications officials at the U.S. Department of Education to talk with me on the record about ELL policy. Thelma Melendez, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, has been the person that the department designates the most often to speak about ELL issues in public.

On another front, I’ve been trying to find out more about how the needs of English-language learners might be addressed in tests that are created to align with the common standards.

I learned the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, or WIDA, consortium hasn’t yet been invited to be a partner with any of the states forming consortia to apply for the $350 million in Race to the Top funds for creating assessments that align with the common standards. Timothy Boals, the executive director of WIDA, said that he was hoping that one of the big consortia applying for grants would have contacted WIDA about being a collaborator, but that hasn’t happened. While WIDA’s primary work has been creating English-language-proficiency standards and a test based on them, the organization has two projects that focus on including English-language learners in academic content tests, Boals noted.

Lastly, Jeff MacSwan, a professor and the director of the applied linguistics program at Arizona State University, has critiqued a report by the Center on Education Policy about the rising test scores of English-language learners. MacSwan contends that the title of the report, “Has Progress Been Made in Raising Achievement for English Language Learners?,” poses a question that isn’t answered by the report. MacSwan finds two main flaws with the study. The first is that the report doesn’t adequately account for possible measurement errors in ELL achievement test scores. He also takes issue with the source of the data that the report uses to draw its conclusions.

I wrote about the center’s report in April.

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