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Reclassification Rate for ELLs in Los Angeles Isn't Improving

The Los Angeles Unified School District didn't improve its rate for reclassifying English-language learners as fluent in the language this last school year over the previous two school years. I just received data from the school system that shows that on average 14.4 percent of ELLs were reclassified as fluent in the 2009-10 school year, down from 14.6 percent the previous year and 14.7 percent the year before that.

In the 06-07 school year, the reclassification rate was 13.6 percent, so it has budged less than a percentage point upward since then.

A reclassification rate is meaningless, though, unless one knows what the criteria are for ELLs in a school district or state to be considered proficient in English. Right now in LAUSD, students are reclassified if they pass the state's English-language proficiency test, score at least "basic" on the state's English-language arts test, and meet evaluation criteria of their teachers (such as having a "C" average or higher), according to a district spokeswoman. Parent consultation is also a factor, she said. Update: The spokeswoman said the criteria have stayed the same for the last few years.

California has resisted the trend to standardize criteria for reclassifying ELLs within a state. Typically states require that ELLs be reclassified after reaching a certain score on the state's English-proficiency test. California leaves the decision of reclassification up to school districts.

LAUSD has been criticized for the fact that many of its ELLs spend most of their school careers categorized as an ELL. A recent report from Californians Together indicated that across California, many ELLs languish in special programs to learn English without meeting criteria to leave them. And experts on ELLs say this is a nationwide problem.

The office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education is investigating the adequacy of programs for ELLs in LAUSD. Maybe that investigation will shed some light on the problem of students' receiving special help to learn English and never testing as fluent.

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