Chaos for Dual Language Learners and The Learning for English Academic Proficiency and Success Act

2014 marks the first year that minority students are projected to surpass their white counterparts in public school enrollment. And nearly one in four students in American schools speak a language other than English at home. Currently, these students, categorized as “dual language learners” (DLLs), are shuffled through a four-part “reclassification” process: a screening assessment, English proficiency support services (such as vocabulary interventions), reassessment, and follow-up monitoring. Such models are mandated by the ESEA, so all states comply in one way or another—but the lack of interstate consensus on exactly how to comply has led to a “chaotic” system, says analyst Conor Williams. There are three issues: (1) local control over which of the four currently available English language proficiency assessments they administer; (2) a lack of consensus regarding when a DLL is proficient and ready for mainstream English instruction; and (3) uncertainty about how to prepare educators and create appropriate DLL instruction. By failing to coordinate reclassification policies, DLLs, who are more likely than other student subgroups to move from state to state, fall further behind their peers academically or lose their precious bilingualism—an asset schools should be nurturing, not silencing. Williams’ proposed solution? A unified set of standards, much like the Common Core State Standards, that align with current research on language acquisition timelines and encourage instruction in both native languages and English. Some states, like Minnesota, are already in the process of revamping their English Language Learner policies. And while successful implementation will take some fine-tuning, it is a conversation that is long overdue.

SOURCES: Conor P. Williams, “Chaos for Dual Language Learners: An Examination of State Policies for Exiting Children from Language Services in the PreK-3rd Grades,” New America Foundation (September 2014); Conor P. Williams, Ph.D., and Colleen Gross Ebinger, “The Learning for English Academic Proficiency and Success Act: Ensuring Faithful and Timely Implementation,” The McKnight Foundation (October 2014).