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Mass. Ed. Commissioner Asks Districts to Focus on ELLs

Mitchell D. Chester, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education for Massachusetts, has sent a memo to superintendents of school districts in his state asking them to focus on closing the achievement gap between English-language learners and non-ELLs. English-language learners comprise "one group of students that is among those most in need of our very best efforts," he writes in the Nov. 10 memo.

Chester mentions that Massachusetts changed its formula grant several years ago to provide additional funding for ELLs. "Therefore, as you review and set your budget priorities, I urge you to put the needs of the ELLs in your district high on your list of priorities," he writes. He tells the superintendents to consider in particular the professional-development needs of teachers working with ELLs.

Nearly 16,000 of the state's 59,000 ELLs attend schools in Boston Public Schools, which settled last month with the U.S. departments of Justice and Education on an agreement for improving services to ELLs.

Roger L. Rice, the executive director of Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy of Somerville, Mass., has been persistent in urging state leaders to put more pressure on school districts to provide high-quality programs for ELLs.

In a meeting with federal officials this fall, Rice used Massachusetts as an example to argue that reviewers of states' applications for Race to the Top funding didn't adequately consider the needs of ELLs. He drew attention to how Massachusetts, which is one of the 12 grant winners of Race to the Top funds, received a score of 25 out of 25 for having improved student outcomes even though achievement gaps between ELLs and non-ELLs in that state widened from 2003 to 2009.

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