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How Will ESSA Rules Change Education for English-Language Learners?

Educators and education advocates submitted more than 20,000 comments on draft regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, and many of them questioned what the new federal K-12 law means for the nation's millions of English-language learners.

As part of the rule-making process, the federal education department will consider the questions and concerns raised before releasing the final rules this fall. Ahead of that release, advocacy groups and researchers are taking a deeper look at what changes may be on the horizon for ELLs.

Nelson Flores, an assistant professor in the educational linguistics division of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, posted a blog pointing out that plenty is at stake for ELLs, a growing and diverse subgroup of students that districts and states struggle to adequately educate. He argues that the foundation of the nation's previous K-12 law, the No Child Left Behind Act, remains in place, but notes that states will have more flexibility under ESSA. Exactly how much flexibility remains to be determined.

Flores wrote that he wants to examine "the ways that states, districts and schools negotiate the new flexibility offered by the ESSA accountability system and the impact that this new flexibility has on the education of ELLs."

Under the new law, states will develop their own ELL accountability systems that must measure progress in English-language development and the number of students who become English proficient. That doesn't sit well with some ELL advocacy groups, because they're concerned states won't have the resources, staff, or know-how to do that well.

As my colleagues at Politics K-12 reported, the Council of Chief State School Officers praised efforts to report "the number of English-language learners who do not attain English proficiency in five years," but panned plans to set a five-year "maximum timeline" for students to reach proficiency.

The Council of Great City Schools also weighed in, raising concerns on the proposed maximum timeline for ELLs to reach proficiency and the federal Department of Education relying on individual states to develop criteria for when students can "exit" ELL status. As my colleagues Andrew Ujifusa and Alyson Klein explained in a Politics K-12 blog on the comments on the draft ESSA accountability rules: "The council is essentially worried that a one-size-fits-all approach on both those issues will 'result in the lowest common statewide denominator for removing students prematurely from specialized services.'"

TESOL International Association, the organization for teachers who specialize in working with English-learners, also questioned the five-year "maximum timeline" and raised concerns that not enough is being done to address the socioemotional needs of English-language learners, some of whom arrive to this country as refugees.

In his blog, Flores pointed to a video from Purdue University researcher Wayne Wright delivering a tutorial on "implications of the new law for the education of ELLs." Here's a look at the video:

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