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For English-Learners to Excel, More Collaboration Needed, Researcher Argues

The Every Student Succeeds Act aims to close opportunity gaps for English-language learners—but reaching that goal will require more collaboration between educators, scholars, and policymakers, a leading English-language-learner researcher argues.

The groups must work together to ensure that English-proficiency standards are used in classrooms in a "conceptually sound and practically feasible manner," argues Okhee Lee, an education professor at New York University and a well-known expert on English-learners and science, in a new policy paper published in Educational Researcher.

Lee writes that aligning English-proficiency standards with content standards, in English, mathematics, and science, has proved difficult because of a "lack of communication and collaboration" between researchers who focus on English-learners and those who specialize in those content areas. ESSA content standards call for all students, including English-learners, to engage in academically rigorous and language-intensive learning, such as arguing from evidence and constructing explanations.

Working together could benefit teachers and researchers, Lee argues, because it would allow for English-learner educators to develop a deeper understanding of content standards, and content area educators to understand the demands that content standards present for English-learners. Lee also writes that the lack of a general consensus on "what language is and how language is learned in English-learner education" has slowed the work of aligning English-proficiency standards and content standards.

The work has taken on more importance because the latest iteration of the nation's K-12 education law shines a brighter spotlight on the academic performance of English-learners: States are now required to publish more data on English-learner performance and, under the law, accountability for English-language-learner performance moved from Title III (the English-language acquisition section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) to Title I, in theory making schools more attentive to the needs of English-learners because their progress is now tied to a larger stream of K-12 funding.

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