California could paint a clearer picture of English learner achievement if new bill passes



California could soon get a deeper understanding of how students at different stages of learning English are doing in school.

A bill currently in the Legislature, Assembly Bill 1868, would require the California Department of Education to report standardized test scores in English language arts, math and science for subgroups of English learners, including long-term English learners, those at risk of becoming long-term English learners, and students who have learned enough English to be reclassified as proficient.

Currently, the department collects and reports test scores for English learners as a whole, but not for specific subgroups.

Long-term English learners are defined as students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for six years or more and have not advanced on the English proficiency test in two or more years. Students defined as at risk of becoming long-term English learners are those who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for four or five years and are scoring at intermediate or below on the English proficiency test.

More than 2 million students in California public schools speak a language other than English at home. Half of them are now proficient in English. Of those still learning English, 1 in 3 are long-term English learners and 1 in 5 are at risk of becoming long-term English learners.

Proponents of the bill say that separating the data on subgroups of English learners would give the state and local school districts a better picture of how each group is doing, which would help them provide more targeted support.

“I represent a district where the majority of the residents are Latino, and a lot of the children are children of immigrants from Mexico or Central America,” said Assemblymember Luz Rivas, D-Los Angeles, who introduced the bill. “I’ve talked with teachers and principals and other educators, and they really want the data and tools. They’re dedicated to making sure that these students are successful.”

The nonprofit organization Californians Together, which researches and advocates for students who speak a language other than English at home, published a report last year on long-term English learners that called on the state to report more data on academic achievement for subgroups of students.

Manuel Buenrostro, associate director of policy for Californians Together and co-author of the report, said that if the bill passes, he hopes that having this data will encourage more districts to include goals and outcomes for long-term English learners in their local control accountability plans, or LCAPS, which detail how districts plan to spend funding to help high-needs students.

“We consistently find that the needs of English learners are not being addressed as much as we would like them to be in the LCAPS, much less the subgroups such as long-term English learners,” Buenrostro said.

For example, Californians Together would like to see districts do more monitoring of students in third through fifth grade and provide stronger support for students who are flagged as at risk to help them learn English faster, so they don’t become long-term English learners.

In addition to disaggregating test scores by subgroups of English learners, the bill would also require the department to report how many students are both English learners and have a disability.

“This is huge because 36% of our long-term English learners are dually identified as students with disabilities,” said Buenrostro. “We know from the survey we did in our report ‘Renewing our Promise’ that districts were struggling with how to better serve these dually identified students.”

First-graders in Oakland, Calif., practice reading.

María Martínez-Poulin, deputy superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, said it would be particularly helpful to separate the scores of those students who have already achieved proficiency in English from others still learning the language.

“I’ve been in education for 32 years and the current accountability system combines reclassified fluent English-proficient students and English learners into a single indicator. It makes it difficult to distinguish the English learners from the long-term English learners and the reclassified fluent English-proficient students,” Martínez-Poulin said. “We want something that will ensure that our multilingual students get the support they deserve.”

Jennifer Baker, legislative advocate for the California Association for Bilingual Education, agrees.

“We think that it’s important to make sure we’re effectively serving all students and not leaving any students behind,” Baker said. “So many of our long-term English learners have really been left behind for a long time. We want to make sure that anyone who touches these students in any way has the tools to make sure to help the students succeed.”

No arguments in opposition to the bill have been filed. It passed the Assembly and is set to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

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