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ELL Researchers Weigh In on ESEA Reauthorization

A group of ELL researchers who aim to shape federal policy have released a detailed Q&A explaining recommendations they've made for big changes for English-language learners in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The Working Group on ELL Policy, whose members include well-known ELL researchers such as Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University and Diane August of the Center for Applied Linguistics, spell out in the document why the ESEA should require states to track ELLs for as long as they are in school, give consideration to the time it takes for ELLs to acquire English, and make English as a second language a core academic subject within the ESEA.

The researchers even suggest a name for the new category that they want the ESEA to establish, Total English Learner group, for monitoring and accountability purposes. As is true now, ELLs would still exit special programs to learn English once they become fluent in the language, but they would stay in the Total English Learner group for their whole school career for data-gathering purposes. The researchers argue that the current practice of moving ELLs out of the accountability category after they become fluent in English leads to inaccurate and inconsistent data.

The researchers also provide an explanation for why the ESEA should require states to establish expected time frames for the development of English, which is not the case in the current version of the ESEA. They recommend that five school years is a "challenging but achievable goal" for students to develop English based on the best data currently available.

The researchers argue that English as a second language should become a core academic subject within the ESEA, and the reauthorization should require teachers of that subject to be as well qualified as the teachers of any core subject. The ESEA currently doesn't require teachers of ELLs to be certified as ESL teachers, which "presents a significant educational equity challenge in that many teachers of ELLs teach out of field," the Q&A document says.

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