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Inside the World of California's Reclassification Rates


In California, most English-language learners are reclassified as fluent in the language in 4th through 6th grades, with another large group reclassified in 8th and 9th grades, according to a paper about California reclassification rates released this week by the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank in Arlington, Va. The paper, "The Education of Jaime Capellan: English Learner Success in California Schools," synthesizes information from various reports about the progress of California ELLs in learning English.

You may have noticed that the Lexington Institute keeps a close watch on reclassification rates of ELLs in California. In May 2007, the institute put out another report on the same topic, and implied that, on average, school districts should be reclassifying more students than they are. Don Soifer, the executive vice president for the institute, has told me he puts a lot of stock in reclassification rates and he'd like to see the rates for all 50 states readily accessible to the public. (For someone who believes that reclassification rates can easily be misunderstood by the public, see a comment by James Crawford, long-time writer about ELLs, published on an earlier blog post.)

The executive summary of the report released this week points out that while 29 percent of ELLs scored as proficient or above on California's English-language-proficiency test in 2007, only 9.2 percent were actually reclassified as fluent in the language—and thus considered ready to keep pace with regular students in regular classrooms without special help. The report points out that the English-learners in California who ARE reclassified as fluent in English do better than native-English speakers on a variety of standardized tests.

Both last year's and this year's reports by the Lexington Institute about reclassification rates were written by Joanne Jacobs, a former columnist for Knight Ridder who writes an education blog, JoanneJacobs.com, that gets a great deal of readership. In her take of the report, she laments that some English-learners become "lifers" in the category. For the record, I really hate to hear people apply that word to students. I want to see them get out of the category, too, but because the word usually refers to incarcerated criminals, it carries for me a connotation that the students themselves have done something wrong rather than that their schools might have failed them.


one very important reason many ELLs are not reclassified after reaching Advanced or Early Advanced status on our California English Development Test is that this test is not the only criterion used to consider reclassification. Many districts use mulitple measures to determine "native like English proficiency" such as the state standarized test results in English Language Arts. If an ELL is to perform as well as their native English speaking peers, then, the state test will help to be a determining factor as far as their true fluency/comprehension of English. Because schools and districts are accountable for their state test scores, it makes sense to use the state test as a benchmark. Too many examples can be given that attests to the fact that academic language is necessary to perform at proficient levels on our CST which all students take. If we redesignate too soon, the student does not qualify for extra support in attainng proficiency in English at an academic level.

More and more, I sympathize with my Data professor from college when he jokingly stated that “numbers can tell many different stories depending on the story teller.” I too would like to see my district reclassify more English Learners to English proficient, but the following questions have preponderance in my mind. How successful will they be after reaching that designation and was the process to arrive there the same for all participants or does the criteria differ according to districts? In other words, some reclassified student at a given school district may end up at a different Performance band of the California Standardized Testing just based on the districts reclassification criteria. Some English Learners transferring to my school district, for example, do not reflect the caliber that most of our RFEPs demonstrate on Standardized tests. Upon investigating further, I discover that their reclassification criteria are not as rigorous as ours. That school district may enjoy the status of a higher percentage of RFEPS, even though their students’ performance after reaching that designation may be dismal or not commensurate with their English Only peers.We need a rigorous model for our “almost there” English Learners that includes a strong dose of academic language within all their content area classes and teachers who are knowledgeable in targeting specific problems that afflict Long Term English Learners.

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