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Illinois Board Votes to Require Bilingual Ed. in Preschool

Update: Matthew Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois state board of education, has a few corrections on the following blog post. He said that the new rules adopted by the board do not call for the superintendent of Illinois to identify the screening mechanism for preschool students. Rather, school districts will select the screening procedures, as long as they meet certain criteria. Second, Vanover said I chose the wrong verb to describe the action that the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules will take on the rules. I had said the joint committee would need to "approve" them to go into effect. Vanover explained that the joint committee can either issue an objection to the rules or not object. If the committee doesn't object, the state board of education will file the rules with the Illinois secretary of state and they go into effect.

Lastly, Vanover said that my post should have pointed out that the Illinois state legislature made a change in state law, effective Jan. 1, 2009, that extended the category of "children of limited-English-speaking ability," or ELLs, in regular public schools to include 3- and 4-year-olds. That's what prompted the state board of education to create rules that clarified how that change in the law should be implemented.

Orginal blog post:

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday unanimously adopted regulations that will require all public preschools in the state to identify any children who have limited proficiency in English and provide transitional bilingual education for them. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in Illinois will still have to approve the rules for them to go into effect. I wrote about the proposed rules for EdWeek in April.

Should the rules go into effect, and I expect now they likely will, it is believed that Illinois will have the most prescriptive rules in the nation for English-language learners in preschool.

Mary Ann Fergus, a spokeswoman for the board, sent me an e-mail confirming that the rules had been approved. She included an analysis of the rules (on pages 169-201) that were among documents provided for a meeting of the board June 23 and 24. (The actual rules are on pages 202-240.)

The adopted rules say public preschools will have to use a screening test chosen by the state's superintendent to assess whether children have limited English skills. They require that any preschool teachers who teach in a transitional bilingual education program have certification to do so by July 1, 2014. They mandate that any school attendance center with an enrollment of 20 or more English-language learners who speak the same language be provided with a program of transitional bilingual education.

The phrase, "transitional bilingual education," commonly refers to a program in which students are taught some subjects in their native language while also using English. The rules say that under the umbrella of transitional bilingual education, preschools may implement bilingual programs that are often known as two-way immersion programs. In such programs, students who are dominant in English and students who speak another native language learn both languages in the same classroom.

The board also adopted a rule that sets a cut-off score on the state's English-language proficiency test to be the deciding factor for when an English-language learner is determined to no longer need special help to learn the language. Currently, school districts can use a higher cut-off score than recommended by the state as well as additional criteria to decide when an English-language learner should leave special programs. The rule says that districts must use only the state-established cut-off score, which will be determined by the state's superintendent, but doesn't spell out what that score is.

If you're interested in issues about best practices for the education of preschoolers who speak a language other than English at home, join us for a free Web chat on that subject on Tuesday, June 29, between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., Eastern time. Barbara Bowman, the chief early childhood education officer for Chicago Public Schools and a founder of the Erikson Institute, will be the guest. I'll be the moderator.

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