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A Report Takes a Look at Reclassification in California


The Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank in Arlington, Va., has published a paper that implies that some school districts in California should be reclassifying more of their English-language learners as fluent in English each year. In the 2005-2006 school year, California's school districts, on average, reclassified 9.6 percent of English-language learners as fluent, the paper states. It features case studies for several districts, including the 19,600-student Alvord Unified School District, in Riverside, Calif., where the reclassification rate in the 2005-2006 school year was 1 percent, and the 89,000-student Long Beach Unified School District, in Long Beach, Calif., where the reclassification rate was 15.2 percent.

Please note that while the Lexington Institute calls the paper a "research study" on its Web site, the piece is written by Joanne Jacobs, a freelance writer in California, who draws from other people's research.

The paper quotes a few questions from one researcher, Robert Linquanti, the project director and senior research associate for WestEd, a San-Francisco-based research and service organization, that, in my experience, many educators can't readily answer about the English-language learners in their schools--particularly educators who don't directly run programs for such students. Among those questions: "How many students leave your elementary schools still as [English-learners]? Of those, how many have been there since kindergarten or 1st grade? How many go on to be reclassified? How well do they do?"

Mr. Linquanti notes that when educators dig up the data to answer those questions, they are sometimes dismayed to find that English-language learners aren't doing well in middle and high school, according to the report.

In addition, the paper includes an interesting anecdote about how the 13,400-student Evergreen Elementary School District in San Jose, Calif., held a ceremony to honor students who had graduated from the category of being English-language learners because they had attained fluency. That's a practice that, it seems to me, would nudge schools to pay more attention to how well they are helping students become fluent.


It's fairly widely known today that many schools and districts are raising the standard for reclassifying an ELL to fluent English proficient (FEP). This results in keeping them classified as limited English proficient (LEP) longer. The reason - formula funding; under formula funding the district receives additional funds for each ELL enrolled. So districts are retaining students in ESL classes when in the past these students would have been fully mainstreamed. While ESL instruction does not hurt anyone, the danger is that the student is missing out on instruction in other content areas that the student would benefit from too. Keeping students in ESL when they are ready for instruction in other subjects in the mainstream classroom, constitutes a form of segregation, and could have negative educational consequences.

After perusing the reviewed article, because frankly that is all Joanne Jacobs seems to have done in her “research” regarding English Language Learners, I have come up with a commentary or food for thought.
When one considers the goal for the student, then the concept for reclassification should be simple. If the student merely needs to receive a fourth grade certificate of completion, then they could probably be reclassified in 5th or 6th grade. If, however you would like your student to think and compete in an English speaking world, perhaps you should be cautious as to when they are renamed.
The title that you give a student, LEP, FEP, NEP should not preclude them from content area course of studies. English is the tool with which we learn these content areas. What better forum to practice English than during Social Studies or the Sciences. The Sciences are especially perfect. The vocabulary is loaded with cognates. The sentence and text structure is fairly predictable. When combined with a lab experience you have comprehensible input-the abstract taken into the concrete. ELD Classes should take place in the Science Department.
In response to teachers’ knowledge of their students’ abilities, for the last ten+ years teachers were required to obtain an authorization to work with ELL. This goal of this program was to receive the authorization. Not improve student learning-to secure teachers’ jobs. These days, however, we are asking teachers, now that you have the knowledge, use it! Look at data on your students. Make a diagnosis, prescribe the best ‘treatment’, and heal your students. I believe there is some statement like, physician heal thyself? In Jacobs article Lindquati refers to the classification of ELL as a death sentence. What is wrong with our society? When a person has 2 cars or 2 houses or 2 fur coats or 2 pairs of diamond earrings they are twice as lucky as someone else and yet, if we have 2 languages of cultures, we are only half of an identity?

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