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More States Seek Flexibility in Accountability for ELLs

By Alyson Klein

This post first appeared on the Politics K-12 blog.

Last year, Florida pushed the U.S. Department of Education for major flexibility on what had been a hard-and-fast rule of the No Child Left Behind Act, even under waivers: Test results for English Language Learners in reading must be factored into school ratings if the student has been in the country for at least a year.

After a lot of cajoling--including threatened legal action--Florida managed to get that timeline extended to two years.

And now at least seven other states--Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island--have also asked for leeway around ELL testing in their waiver renewal applications, which were turned into the department back in late March. 

It's worth noting that some experts on educating ELLs consider counting their test results after just one year of instruction in an American school to be appropriate, although some civil rights advocates worry that these students could be ignored if the feds and states don't hold schools' feet to the fire on their progress.

None of the states' requests have been approved just yet, but it's unclear whether their asks on ELLs are holding up approvals for their waiver renewals.

So now that Florida has gotten the flexibility, what are these other states asking for? It varies, but generally they also want to shift the time frame for when ELLs should count for accountability purposes.

Here's a quick rundown of each state's ask:

Colorado and Connecticut want to wait to count English Language Learners for accountability purposes until they've been in the country for at least two years, similar to Florida's plan.

Delaware wants to make gradual changes to when "recently arrived" students would be counted for accountability purposes and when they would take tests. Under the plan, in their first year, ELLs wouldn't have to take the state math, reading, or science tests. In their second year, the student would be tested, but the results would just be used a baseline for growth, they wouldn't count for accountability purposes. In the third year, the students' growth or progress would factor into their schools rating, but not their overall achievement level. And in the fourth year, the student's growth and achievement would be included, just like any other student.

Massachusetts wants to hold off on including the test results of ELLs who have been in the country for two years in their schools' accountability ratings, if the students are still really struggling with English (that's defined as kids who score at "emerging" or "developing" their language skills on the state's English proficiency test). The idea is to give teachers an extra year to help ELLs with language development before they have to worry about content.

The Bay State stresses in its application that first- and second-year ELLs would still take tests in math and science. And growth on those assessments would be calculated into a district's accountability rating (but not a school's rating, it would seem).

It's worth noting that educators in the state wanted Massachusetts to go even further on its ELL ask, but Bay State officials declined.

New York wants to exempt ELLs scores on reading tests from being used for accountability purposes, if the student has been in the country for less than two years (that's similar to what Florida got). Instead, the state would develop a performance index for students who are new arrivals, and give them the state's English language proficiency test instead for accountability purposes.

Ohio wants to exempt newly arrived ELLs from being considered for accountability purposes until they've been in the country for two years or more. Students would still need to take state tests, however. And in a shift for the state, first-year ELLs would have to take the English Language Arts tests. Their results wouldn't count for accountability purposes, but it would help provide a baseline so that schools could see how much their English Language Learners had grown between their first and second years of American schooling.

Rhode Island asked for a one-year delay in testing of English learners in mathematics--the state already has one for testing of English Learners in reading.

And Georgia is also mulling an amendment on ELL testing. (No details yet.)

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