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Illinois Rules to Identify ELLs in Preschool Will Go Forward

Rules adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education that require all public preschools in the state to identify preschoolers who are English-language learners and provide them with bilingual education will soon go into effect, according to a spokeswoman for the board of education.

Early-childhood experts have told me they don't know of any other state that has rules that are as prescriptive as those soon to be implemented in Illinois for how preschool-age English-language learners should be educated.

The Illinois education agency staff created the rules to accompany a change in state law that took effect Jan. 1, 2009. The change extended the category of "children of limited-English-speaking ability," or ELLs, in regular public schools to include 3- and 4-year-olds. The state board of education adopted the rules on June 24.

But for new rules in Illinois to be finalized, a panel of lawmakers, called the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, has the right to either object to them or issue a "certificate of no objection." Mary Ann Fergus, a spokeswoman for the state board of education, told me that the committee issued a certificate of no objection yesterday, so the rules will be filed with the state's secretary of education and are expected to go into effect by the end of this month.

Under the rules, school districts will need to select and use a screening test that meets certain criteria to determine if preschoolers have limited proficiency in English. They will need to provide transitional bilingual education to ELLs if they have 20 or more students enrolled at an attendance center who speak the same native language. The rules require that any preschool teachers who teach in a transitional bilingual education program have certification to do so by July 1, 2014.

The phrase, "transitional bilingual education," commonly refers to a program in which students are taught some subjects in their native language while also learning English. However, the state board has indicated 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.

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