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California Puts More Attention on Long-Term English-Language Learners

Nearly 75 percent of California's English-language learners in grades 6-12 have been in the state's schools for seven or more years and still fall short of enough fluency in English to succeed academically, a new report finds.

Using a groundbreaking law that requires the state to define and identify "long-term English learners," and for school districts to collect and report data on such students, Californians Together, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, released new state data that show that 350,000 middle and high school students across California are long-term ELLs.

California public schools have about 1.4 million English-learners, nearly 25 percent of its K-12 enrollment.

The report from Californians Together comes as education leaders across California have turned their attention towards the hundreds of thousands of struggling students who have stalled in their progress towards English proficiency.

A 2010 study by the Californians Together determined that many students struggled to learn English because schools failed to monitor their progress, adequately train teachers, or provide appropriate curriculum.

"These 'long-term English-learners' get stuck at a very basic level of English skills, and fail to attain the levels of English proficiency needed to participate and succeed academically in school," said researcher Laurie Olsen, a member of Californians Together's executive board.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the new focus on long-term English learners comes amid a "shift in California's long-running language wars" as more educators rebel against Proposition 227, a late 1990s initiative that impeded bilingual education.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in 2013 for allegedly failing to provide legally required services for students learning English. Of late, the ACLU is just one of several organizations to turn its attention toward long-term English learners.

A December 2013 white paper from the Education Commission of the States recommended that states focus on long-term English-language learners who go six or more years without becoming proficient enough to exit ELL services.

This summer, a Latino civil rights organization filed a lawsuit against two Texas school districts, alleging that the state didn't provide adequate instructional programs for long-term English-language learners and other ELLs.

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