Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why States Are Creating A Common Definition For English Language Learners

The U.S. Department of Education is prodding states to adopt a common definition for who is an English language learner.

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The U.S. Department of Education is prodding states to adopt a common definition for who is an English language learner.

The federal government is pushing states to consider adopting a common definition for which students qualify as English language learners, Stateline reports.

The decision is important because it could affect federal funding for those students. The common definition could also determine which students receive accommodations on standardized tests, such as more time, use of a dictionary or instructions recorded in their native language.

From the story:

The label matters, because under the federal Civil Rights Act, schools are required to provide English-language learners with additional services to ensure they master English as well as the material other students are learning.

The wide variety in policies also creates headaches for students who move from state to state, or even from one school district to another, as they may suddenly find themselves lumped into a new category.

Now that nearly all the states have agreed to adopt common standards in English and math, known as the Common Core State Standards, some states are striving for a common definition of an English-language learner. The task likely will take years, given the political and policy thickets that need to be cleared.

A common definition would help English learners to receive better educations, said Robert Linquanti, project director for English Learner Evaluation and Accountability Support at WestEd, a nonprofit education research organization based in California, and one of two co-authors of a recent report.

About one of every 11 Florida students did not speak English as a native language — more than 250,000 students — according to the Florida Department of Education. That’s up from about one in 13 students in 2004.

More than 90 percent of English language learners failed the 10th grade FCAT reading exam last year.

The federal Department of Education has pushed states to adopt shared standards and data the past several years. States are now using a common definition to measure high school graduation rates. Florida is one of 45 states to fully adopt math, English and literacy standards known as Common Core.

And the federal government is offering some financial reasons to adopt a common definition for English learners — as with Common Core — by offering grants to multi-state groups developing new tests, Stateline reports.


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