Cherchez LA funds: English Learners get stuck

Los Angeles Unified profits by keeping kids in English Learner status long after they’ve met state and local standards for fluency, argues Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute in the LA Daily News.  The district gets more money and higher test scores.

A Bureau of State Audits report found 62 percent of LA’s English Learners met criteria for fluency but weren’t reclassified.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office has found that districts have a financial incentive for keeping students classified as English learners because federal and state programs distribute funds based on the number of students eligible for those programs.

. . . NCLB requires subgroups such as English learners to make annual progress toward grade-level proficiency in math and English language arts. Keeping English-fluent students in the English-learner category increases the chances that schools will meet federal goals.

Less than 40 percent of English Learners are reclassified as fluent after 10 years in California schools, estimates the state Education Department.

In addition to changing the perverse incentives, Izumi suggests giving parents a “voucher that would allow them and their children to exit immediately from public schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere that fail to transition students to English fluency quickly.”

Via Learning the Language.

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  1. The idea that the incentive should go to the families is an interesting one. I’m not all for school vouchers, but perhaps we should explore the idea that if your student transitions successfully out of ELL, IEP or Special Ed services you will get some kind of incentive, perhaps in the form of college tuition breaks. Of course that might lead to everyone wanting their child to be classified as one of those three things, assuming they’d transition out and therefore get the money, but perhaps there’s something to the idea.

  2. It may not be intentional. For students to advance they have to demonstrate language mastery on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT). The test has several components and the one that always trips up our kids is the writing component. It’s hard. Since we are obligated to advance our EL students according NCLB, there really is no incentive to hold them back. (Even after they are reclassified, they count as EL’s for two more years!)

  3. Shouldn’t being fluent in English and able to converse with any agency or individual in this country be enough incentive on its own?

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Our biggest nearby city has an extensive program for kids who don’t speak English as a first language. I talked to the proprietor who, in an unguarded moment, told me there were five kids whose families spoke no English in the program. The entire program was sold on the premise that we were about to be overrun with kids who had no clue about English.
    One of my colleagues got her daughter into the program because they had a Hispanic last name and she figured it would be the best way for the kid to learn Spanish.

  5. Diana Senechal says:

    In New York State, there are four levels for English language learners: beginner, intermediate, advanced, and proficient. Once you score proficient, you don’t need to be in ESL class any longer—but you are still entitled to testing accommodations for two more years.

    Some students who were born and raised in the U.S.—and yet classified as English language learners—fail to score proficient year after year, not because they don’t know enough English, but because their writing isn’t up to par. It is possible that many non-ELLs would fail to score proficient if they took the test.

    I would say students who score “advanced” should go into regular classes, including ELA–or at least that should be an option. It may be a struggle for them at first, but the challenge will benefit them in the long run.

    Also, students should have opportunities to take the test during the year, perhaps once in the fall and once in the spring. In New York State it is administered only in the spring. Some students make great progress over the summer and then have to wait until the following spring to take the test again.


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