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English Language Learners are the Latest Focus of the Department of Education Under ESSA

English Language Learners are the Latest Focus of the Department of Education Under ESSA

At first, the Department of Education released a guidance to advise schools on how to use the Every Student Succeeds Act to best meet the needs of foster youth. Then, it released a similar guidance regarding the educational rights of homeless students. Now, its latest guidance is addressing the needs of English learners (ELs) and how ESSA is to be used to meet those needs.

"The guidance is an effort to ensure that students who are English learners receive the high-quality services they need to be college and career ready,” said the Department of Education in its introduction.

English Language Proficiency Standards

To start, the guidance instructs states how to best use Title III funds “to provide supplemental services that improve the English language proficiency and academic achievement of ELs, including through the provision of language instruction educational programs (LIEPs) and activities that increase the knowledge and skills of teachers who serve ELs.”

The guidance recommends that states begin to makes changes during the fall and winter months in accordance with new ESSA requirements as changes must be in effect by July 2017.

Aside from clarifying how funding will work under ESSA, the guidance also addresses the requirements for English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards.

While states might not necessarily have to change proficiency standards, they must all demonstrate that they have adopted statewide ELP standards that are aligned with the state’s academic content standards. Further, standards must outline proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing as well as address the different proficiency levels of English learners.

For additional clarification, the guidance defines exactly what it means for ELP standards to be aligned to state standards.

"A State’s English language proficiency standards should reflect research on the process of language acquisition and, based on this research, reflect the elements needed for EL students to acquire the English language skills necessary to meet academic content standards,” the guidance says.

"The goal of English language proficiency standards is to build a foundation in the English language that will enable EL students to succeed in each academic content area.”


Professional Development for Teachers Educating English Learners

The guidance makes several recommendations for how states should ensure its educators are universally well-equipped to instruct English language learners.

It defines what effective professional development programs for school staff means, specifically in its ability to increase "children’s English language proficiency or substantially increasing the subject matter knowledge, teaching knowledge, and teaching skills of teachers of ELs.”

"The professional development provided by either the State or an LEA need not be limited to teachers who teach exclusively ELs, but may be provided to all teachers who have ELs in their classrooms, to enable them to teach those ELs more effectively.”

For states that are using federal funds to provide ELs services, the guidance recommends that schools send home notifications to parents if their child is identified as an English learner. These notifications, the guidance says, should include the reason for identifying the child in question as an EL, the child’s level of ELP, what program the child will be in to benefit them academically and how the program works as well as “information regarding parents’ right to withdraw the child from a program upon their request, and to decline enrollment or choose another program or method of instruction, if available.”


English Learners in Early Education

The guidance makes recommendations for how ELs should be treated in early education programs. According to the guidance, "ESSA amendments further promote the inclusion of ELs in early learning programs as part of Title III” as well as allows for funding to be used to help early educators participate in professional development.


English Learners with Disabilities

The guidance drives the point home that English learners with disabilities should be separated from the group to ensure that quality and appropriate academic instruction is received.

"Specifically, the new reporting requirement under Title III of the ESEA requires that States and LEAs report the number and percentage of ELs in the programs and activities who are making progress toward achieving English language proficiency in the aggregate and disaggregated, at a minimum, by English learners with disabilities,” the guidance says.

Read the guidance in its entirety here. See the preceeding guidances from the U.S. Department of Education below.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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