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When Should ELL Test Results Matter Under the ESEA?

Originally posted on the Politics K-12 blog

By Alyson Klein

When should English-language learners test results matter for accountability purposes? It's an issue to watch as Congress rewrites the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--and as states are approved for waiver renewals under the current law.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education gave Florida a pass when it comes to the timetable for incorporating English-language learners test results into school ratings. And now, more than half a dozen other states want similar flexibility. But it doesn't look like they are going to get it, at least not yet.

Quick refresher: The current version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act, calls for states to incorporate the test results for English-language learners after they have been enrolled in U.S. schools for a year. After a lot of cajoling, and even threatened legal action, Florida asked for--and got--that extended to two years, which is what some ELL experts say is good practice anyway.

But the department is holding firm against offering any more leeway in this area--for now. So far, it has told at least two states--Delaware and Rhode Island--to take their requests for flexibility on ELL testing out of their waiver-renewal requests (which were then approved). And it's turned down other states' requests, including New York's. Read more about what states are asking for in this story.

The issue may be wrapped up in the reauthorization of the ESEA law, since ELL testing could become a sticking point as both chambers try to conference their bills. The bipartisan bill that just passed the U.S. Senate keeps the current one-year reprieve in place.

But the House bill would allow states to delay including ELL's math test scores in accountability systems until the students have been in the country for two years--and states could hold off for three years with reading tests. More on the differences between the bills here.   

Reading between the lines, it seems like the department may be holding firm on this issue in waiver renewals, so the administration is in a stronger bargaining position on ELL accountability during ESEA reauthorization negotiations. Wonks: Do you agree? The comments section is open.

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