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Recommendations for State Boards of Education

The lack of a national standard for how English-language learners are identified and tracked—and a lack of a uniform standard even within some states—makes it difficult for anyone to know how well such students are doing academically. That's one point made in a report, "English, Language Education, and America's Future," released this month by the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of State Boards of Education.

As of this writing, the report hadn't been posted on-line, but the Web site of the National Association of State Boards of Education says it is "coming soon."

The report makes five recommendations for state policies concerning English-language learners. I quote them here verbatim:

—Clarify state language education goals.
—Standardize how English-language learners are identified and tracked.
—Recruit and prepare adequate numbers of specialized, highly qualified ESL and world language teachers.
—Require that all educators learn basic ESL concepts and techniques.
—Select/develop and administer a comprehensive system of valid and reliable assessments to hold schools accountable for students' English-language proficiency and mastery of academic content.

Offhand, I know that California, the state with the most English-language learners, doesn't have a uniform definition across the state for what an English-language learner is because it leaves it up to each school district to determine the criteria for reclassifying such students as fluent in English. And states have a long way to go to meet the recommendation that all teachers would receive training to teach ELLs effectively. The report names two states, Arizona and Florida, that require all teachers to take courses in how to work with ELLs. California and Virginia also have requirements for teacher preparation programs to prepare teachers to instruct ELLs. That's a very short list.

The report is written by a study group of the National Association of State Boards of Education on language and learning. Its recommendations are based on the group's examination of existing research on ELLs.

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