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Proposed ELL Interpretation Would Require More Standardization

Friday's Federal Register contains a proposed "interpretation" of the No Child Left Behind Act that, if put into effect, will require states to make some big changes in their policies regarding English-language learners.

One of the biggest changes that I see is that states will have to use the same criteria for deciding when English-language learners exit from programs as they use to determine if students have attained proficiency in English for reporting purposes under accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, states set criteria for what it means for students to attain proficiency in the language for NCLB purposes. But that is usually a different, typically less stringent, set of criteria than what school districts use to say children must stop getting special instruction to learn English.

The proposed interpretation permits states to use additional criteria, beyond that of students' scores on the state's English-proficiency test, to determine if students have attained proficiency in English. Those criteria might include students' performance on a state's reading or math tests. But if states decide to go that route, they would have to incorporate that additional criteria into their definitions of what it means to reach English proficiency.

In states such as California and Virginia, state education officials have left it up to administrators in school districts to decide when students should leave special programs. And it's my guess that many of these school administrators will not want to give up this discretion.

States have increasingly been moving toward standardization, but most haven't standardized their criteria to the extent that the interpretation would require.

The U.S. Department of Education is receiving comments on the proposed interpretation until June 2. Comments can be sent to [email protected] If you don't like something about it, this is the time to speak up.

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