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Long-Term ELLs Poised for More Attention in California

Long-term English-learners—those students who still haven't reached fluency after several years in U.S. schools—could become much more visible in California, where just about 1 out of every 4 public school students is an ELL.

That's because legislation that would create a separate student category for long-term ELLs for reporting purposes is sitting on the desk of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, awaiting his signature. If he signs the measure, California would become the first state in the nation to break out data for long-term ELLs and report it publicly. The measure would also require the state education agency to break out data on students who are "at-risk" for becoming long-term English learners.

For years, a number of researchers, advocates and educators have argued that lumping all English-learners into a single category masks how well, or how poorly, this very diverse population of kids is actually doing in school. Outcomes for long-term English-learners have been especially hidden.

Under the measure that received fairly broad support in the politically fractious California statehouse, long-term English-language learners are defined as students who are in grades 6 to 12, have been enrolled in U.S. schools for more than six years, have been stuck at the same level of English for two or more years as measured by the state's annual proficiency exam, and scores "far below basic" or "below basic" on California's exam in English/language arts. There currently is no common definition of a long-term ELL in California, where districts vary in how they identify such students.

Students who would be defined as "at-risk" for becoming long-term ELLs are those who are in grades 5 through 11, have been enrolled in U.S. schools for more than four years, score at the intermediate level or below on the state's English proficiency exam, and scores in one of the two bottom categories on the state's English/language arts exam.

As originally conceived, the legislation would have also required school districts to notify parents whose children were flagged as "at-risk" for long-term ELL status or who had already fallen into the long-term ELL category. That requirement was stripped out as the bill moved through the legislative process.

Californians Together, a research and advocacy group for the state's 1.6 million English-learners, is the brain trust behind this bill and catapulted the long-term ELL issue into the national spotlight a few years ago with its report showing that large numbers of such students were languishing in California's public schools.

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