Blog: Latino Ed Beat

California Senate to Examine Performance of English Language Learners

A newly established California Senate committee will examine how to improve the academic performance of the state’s roughly 1.5 million children who are English language learners.

State Senator Alex Padilla announced in a press release that the committee’s goal is to reform a “broken system” in which only one in 10 students is reclassified as English proficient annually. Padilla, who represents most of the San Fernando Valley, will chair the effort. Many children stay classified as ELLs for years without moving into English proficiency, eventually dropping out of school.

“It has become painfully obvious that we are failing to adequately teach English to the vast majority of these students,” Padilla said in the press release. “I’m appalled that nearly half of all English learners never graduate from high school. This committee will raise awareness and focus policy on how best to help California students learn English and be college and career ready.”

The new Senate Select Committee on English Learners will meet for the first time on March 28.

Padilla also introduced three bills to the Legislature aimed at reforming the system:

Senate Bill 1109 would create a state master plan for ELLs. The bill’s text notes that current law calls for instruction conforming with federal requirements. This is kind of vague, so I’m not sure what exactly that entails.

Senate Bill 1108 would adjust the standards for transitioning ELLs to mainstream classrooms. It would base reclassification of students on three criteria, instead of the current four required. According to the text: “[T]his bill would instead require the reclassification procedures to use only 3 of 4 specified criteria and would no longer require the comparison of the pupil’s basic skills performance against an empirically established range of basic skills performance based on the performance of English proficient pupils of the same age.” That’s pretty confusing language, but it seems like an attempt to make it easier for students to exit the ELL category.

Senate Bill 754 would focus attention on long-term English language learners– those students who are still not English proficient after years of instruction. It defines a long-term student as any one in grades 6-12 who has been an ELL for five or more years. It also calls for the state to provide information on students who fall into the long-term category. I’m curious what he means by information. Breaking out those students’ performance would help shine a light on how much this category of students is struggling and would also acknowledge that they are a much different group than new immigrants who also are classified as ELLs.

Thanks go to Education Week’s Learning the Language blog for drawing my attention to this news. The publication recently reported on how the state’s chief of schools, Tom Torlakson, has assigned a new team of experts to focus on ELLs. He named Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, a San Diego State University education professor who has trained teachers on how to work with ELLs, as head of the English Learner Support Division.