Blog: Latino Ed Beat

The Importance of Covering English Language Learners

of weeks seems to be English Language Learners, it might be because the topic continues to be a rich source for story ideas and a magnet for controversy. Just this week, the Florida Board of Education approved rule changes for that  growing group of students and a study questioned whether the state of California is misidentifying significant numbers of students as English Language Learners.

In Florida, the rules approved by the state board will allow parents of students considered English language learners to withdraw their children from an English learner program, regardless of their proficiency level. The student would be transferred to a regular class taught by an ESL-qualified teacher, according to this Associated Press story.

The changes were criticized by advocacy groups and the state’s teachers union, who worry that schools will not provide sufficient language  instruction for English Language Learners.

On the other side of the country, a study by the Center for Latino Policy Research at UC Berkeley suggests that California school districts are “misidentifying large numbers of entering kindergarten students as English learners.” The culprits according to the study are a home language survey and the California English Language Development Test, a proficiency test which identifies students who need help with English.

The study showed that the home language survey overidentifies the number of students who need to take the proficiency test. The vast majority of children (94 percent) who take the proficiency test are then deemed to lack English language proficiency.

“Being identified to take the CELDT almost guarantees a student’s classification as EL,” the study concluded. It goes on to note: “EL misidentification is important because it means that these students are not receiving the language support and education that is appropriate to their language skills.”

The researchers questioned the survey and test itself, as well as the way both are administered, noting that many test administrators were English-only people who did not have experience with test administration or English learners.

"Given the large number of English learners in California schools, it is critical for California to be at the forefront of developing the most accurate and effective system for identifying and assessing English learners," the study said. "English learners are one of the most vulnerable sectors of California's student population."

The same could be said for English Language Learners and schools nationwide. In California, 1.6 million students are classified as ELL; in Florida, the number last year was about 243,078.

The developments in both states point out how important it is for education writers to be examining issues related to English Language Learners and looking carefully at how schools classify and educate those students.