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English-Language Learners

In Some States, ESSA Goals for English-Learners Are ‘Purely Symbolic,’ Report Finds

By Corey Mitchell — February 14, 2020 2 min read
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Advocates had high hopes that the Every Student Succeeds Act marked a significant step forward for students learning English in the nation’s K-12 schools.

But English-language-learner education policies across the country remain “disjointed and inaccessible to local education officials, teachers, and education advocates” more than four years after the law’s passage, a new Migration Policy Institute report concludes.

The report, The Patchy Landscape of State English Learner Policies Under ESSA, assesses the ESSA plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, analyzing policies that affect students’ language-acquisition journey, from English-learner identification to reclassification as English proficient, their academic achievement as a student subgroup, and the extent to which they are included in state systems of accountability.

ESSA required that, for the first time under federal law, schools would be held accountable for English-learners’ progress in achieving English-language proficiency and their performance in English language arts and math. Instead, the report authors, Delia Pompa and Leslie Villegas, found a “fractured and incomplete” picture of English-learner education and dozens of state plans that do little to hold schools responsible for the performance of their English-learner students.

“In terms of (English-learners’) academic achievement, more often than not, long-term goals were purely symbolic because they rarely played a meaningful role in accountability systems,” the report authors concluded.

The report wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. Pompa and Villegas praised ESSA’s role in creating consistent policies within states, including providing uniform standards on how students are screened for English-learner services and reclassified as English proficient.

The authors also noted that the law brought renewed focus to requirements that were written into law in previous versions of the nation’s K-12 education law but never fully implemented—such as exploring the assessment needs of students who speak languages other than English. But even that has sparked debate in several places, including Florida, where officials argue that their English-only laws provide cover from ESSA’s requirement that states “make every effort” to develop statewide assessments in students’ first languages if they constitute a significant portion of the student population.

Here’s a look at the full Migration Policy Institute report.

Related Reading

English-Learners and Graduation: How ESSA Could Penalize ELLs and Their Schools

English-Learners and ESSA: Many States Are Lowering Academic Goals, Advocates Charge

ESSA’s Impact for English-Learners Unclear

How Will ESSA Rules Change Education for English-Language Learners?

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