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Charlene Rivera Testifies in U.S. Senate on ELLs

Do you remember that I recently observed that the relatively new Working Group on ELL Policy, a group of researchers who study English-language learners, seems to have clout in Washington on issues affecting English-language learners?

Well, Charlene Rivera, the executive director of George Washington University's
Center for Equity & Excellence in Education and a member of the working group, was one of five people selected to testify at yesterday's Senate hearing on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Read my colleague Alyson Klein's story about the hearing, which focused on standards and assessments. The last paragraph in her story tells about Rivera's testimony.

I've just read the written testimony that Rivera submitted to the Senate and I find it contains the most detailed argument I've seen for how and why the needs of ELLs should be considered as part of the creation of the common-core standards. Rivera observes that "ELL experts were not invited to be part of the initial development process." She says that more attention needs to be given to how and at what point ELLs will be expected to acquire and be assessed by the common-core standards.

For ELLs with very low proficiency in English, she said, it may be worthwhile to use English-language-proficiency standards and assessments as a replacement for the regular reading and writing standards and assessments designed for native speakers of English.

That idea, by the way, was not accepted by the George W. Bush administration, which required several states, including Virginia and New York, to stop substituting states' regular reading tests with English-language-proficiency tests for beginning ELLs.

Rivera makes a plug for a key recommendation from the Working Group on ELL Policy, which is that the category for ELLs should be stable for accountability purposes in the new ESEA. Thus, after ELLs leave special programs to learn English, their test scores would still be included in the category for ELLs, so that school districts and states would get credit for their academic performance. Currently, their test scores are included in the ELL category only for two years after they exit special programs to learn English.

Rivera also suggests that the term "limited-English proficient" be replaced with "English-language learner" in the new ESEA. She wrote: "Just as we do not label first-year physics students 'limited-physics students,' we should not call students in the process of learning English 'limited-English speakers.' "

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