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Should We Have a National Definition for ELLs?

The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute are calling for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include a common definition for English-language learners.

In a report released this week with recommendations on how to close the achievement gap between Latinos and other students, the two organizations say that states should use "identical criteria" to designate who is an English-language learner and determine when such a student becomes fluent in English.

The report doesn't go into any detail about the political opposition that may exist to such a proposal. California education officials, for example, told me recently that they are still resisting giving into federal pressure to standardize the criteria for determining if an English-language learner is fluent in English within the state. But, on the other hand, Illinois gave into the federal pressure to standardize by approving a regulation yesterday that requires all Illinois school districts to use the same cut-off score on the state's English-language-proficiency test to decide if ELLs are fluent.

The report cites a number of problems with the education of English-language learners besides "a lack of interstate and intrastate uniformity in assessment and placement" of such students. It says that programs for ELLs need to be more effective and teachers need to be better prepared to work with them.

The report also focuses on how to improve the education of Latinos in middle school. Two of its recommendations are for states or school districts to introduce college awareness at the middle school level, and promote the value of technical and vocational education.

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