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Report: Illinois Gets Early Start With English-Language Learners

Providing adequate services to help English-Language learners succeed in school and later in life is a growing issue for school districts across the country. Can embedding services as early as prekindergarten help these kids build the language skills they need to succeed?

That's the topic of a new policy paper by the Early Education Initiative of the New America Foundation, which examines the approach that one state—Illinois—has taken toward ELL students.

Released Tuesday, "Starting Early with English-Language Learners: First Lessons From Illinois," by policy analyst Maggie Severns, discusses how Illinois changed its laws in 2008 to provide its state-funded preschoolers with ELL services, leading to new rules concerning teacher preparation and classroom instruction that are to be implemented by 2014, according to the report. Most states provide ELL services beginning in kindergarten or 1st grade.

In the report, Severns describes Illinois' approach as "cutting edge," noting that "no other state has gone this far in implementing a comprehensive plan for educating English-Language learners in state-funded pre-K."

"Illinois hopes the new policies will create more continuity between pre-K and the early grades of school when students are developing crucial language skills, and reduce remediation for students in later grades by building important language skills early on," the report said.

Severns said that Illinois' approach is not perfect, and that the state's efforts offer lessons to other policymakers looking to better serve ELL students. She offers these three recommendations:

  • Make sure that pre-k programs and schools receive money from the state and local districts to cover ELL services, and there is an adequate budget to serve all eligible kids.

  • Track outcomes for ELL students and provide funding to evaluate which services are the most effective.

  • And, finally, continue to align the ELL experience in pre-K through the early grades while also providing professional development for teachers.

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