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ESSA: Ed. Dept. Releases English-Language-Learner Guidance


By Alyson Klein and Corey Michell

States and school districts that get federal funding to support students who are English-language learners can use that money to support long-term ELLs and ELLs in special education, as well as to help figure out how those students are progressing, according to new Every Student Succeeds Act guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education Friday.

The guidance also makes it clear that districts and states can use their English Language Acquisition grants—provided through a $737 million program also known as Title III of ESSA_button.jpgESSA—for many of the same purposes as they did under No Child Left Behind. That's true even though schools' accountability for ensuring ELLs progress in their English-proficiency has moved to Title I of the law, along with accountability for all other groups of kids. 

That means that states are allowed to use their Title III funds to help identify ELLs who are struggling, make sure their English-language proficiency tests match up with English-language proficiency standards, and align state content standards with English-language proficiency standards. And districts can use Title III funds to help notify parents that their child is an English-learner.

States and districts can also use their Title III money to help meet some new transparency and reporting requirements in ESSA that are aimed at getting a better understanding of ELLs and former ELLs.

For instance, the new law calls for states and districts to report on the percentage of students who have been identified as long-term English-language learners—those students who have attended school in the United States for five years or more without being reclassified as proficient in English.

Districts and states must also track the performance of former ELLs for four years to "determine whether they are performing academically on par with their never-EL peers or whether gaps in achievement remain." Tracking this data will help educators better judge the effectiveness of English-learner services and district and state policies around how and when students are determined to no longer need language services, the guidance states.

And states and districts now need to make it possible for researchers and the public to see how kids who fall into more than one subgroup of students—including English-learners with learning disabilities—are progressing.

Noting that "ELs are a highly diverse student population," the guidance also recommends tracking the performance of English-language learners of other subgroups, including students with gaps in their formal education and those who have recently arrived in the United States.

The guidance, which is non-binding, also covers a range of fiscal and monitoring issues in Title III. You can check it out here.

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