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L.A. Unified Improves English-Learner Outcomes, Superintendent Says

English-learners in Los Angeles Unified posted important academic gains in 2012-13 that Superintendent John Deasy said point to an upward trajectory for a huge group of students that have had a history of languishing in the nation's second largest school system.

In a recent memo written to staff members that was published at LA School Report, Deasy wrote that the district's English-learners increased their proficiency rates on one of the district's English/language arts periodic assessments at a faster clip than all students. As a group, elementary ELLs posted a 13-point gain in ELA proficiency rates, up to 38 percent this year over 25 percent last year, according to the memo.

At the elementary level on the same periodic assessment, Deasy reports that the numbers of ELLs who scored in the bottom rungs of "far below basic" and "below basic" dropped significantly, from 37 percent last year to 26 percent this year. At the secondary level, the gains were more modest.

Los Angeles Unified is two years into the rollout of a "master plan" for English-learners that was the result of an enforcement action by the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office to improve instruction and services for ELLs. For a district with nearly 200,000 English-learners—close to 30 percent of overall enrollment—outcomes for ELLs have a huge impact on how well Los Angeles does as a whole.

The district has especially struggled with long-term English-learners—those who remain in school for six or more years without ever reaching proficiency. One issue explored by federal civil rights officials in their probe of ELL performance in Los Angeles Unified was the ongoing academic struggles and lack of targeted support for middle and high school students who lag in achievement even after being reclassified as proficient in English.

In his memo, Deasy says several middle and high school teachers piloted new curriculum this school year that will be used districtwide in the fall for two new courses that district officials have developed for long-term ELLs. California became the first state in the nation to require school districts to break out and report data annually on long-term ELLs. The state also created a common, statewide definition for such students and requires school districts to flag those at risk of becoming long-term ELLs.

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