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California is the First State in the Nation to Define and Identify English Learners who After Many Years are Struggling to Succeed

Sacramento: Three out of four (74%) English Learner students in grades 6 -12 have been in California schools for 7 years or more and are still without the English skills they need to succeed academically.  Because this is longer than it should take to attain English proficiency, they are called “Long Term English Learners” (LTELs).  The numbers compiled by the California Department of Education for the first time by any state in the nation, is part of an effort to ensure these students get the educational support they need.  

This is the first of what will be annual releases of school level and district level data on LTELs being reported as a result of legislation passed in 2012, (AB 2193, Lara) that defined who a Long Term English Learner (LTEL) is and also set criteria for identifying Students at Risk of Becoming a Long Term English Learner.  No other state in the union has shone such a clear light on this issue.

Currently, there are 470,769 California English learners enrolled in grades 6-12.  Of these students, 347,932 have been in California schools for 7 years or more without reaching English proficiency, constituting 74% of secondary ELs. Of this group, 89,731 or 19% of secondary ELs meet the state’s multiple criteria that designate them as Long Term English Learners (7 years or more in California schools, scoring Far Below Basic or Below Basic on the state academic exams in English Language Arts and failing to progress on the state’s English language proficiency exam).

“Approximately half of the young English Learners who enroll in California schools in kindergarten face year after year of struggling academically and falling further and further behind because they do not adequately comprehend what is being taught in a language they have not yet mastered.  Along with compounding academic gaps and failure, these “Long Term English Learners” get stuck at a very basic level of English skills, and fail to attain the levels of English proficiency needed to participate and succeed academically in school,” explained Dr. Laurie Olsen, researcher and author.

Her groundbreaking research report for Californians Together in 2010, Reparable Harm, Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Equal Educational Opportunity for Californians Long Term English Learners, reviewed data on over 175,000 grade 6-12 English learners from 40 school districts representative of the state, finding that 59% of these students have been in US schools for six years or more without attaining proficiency in English.  One of the recommendations in that report was to agree on a statewide definition to identify these students and make them visible.  With the state’s new LTEL data, each school and district can now identify who these students are, and precede to provide appropriate services. The California Department of Education has emailed the LTEL data files to each district with the option for the district to be able to identify the students at each school site.

“This should be a call to action. Schools now will know the extent of the problem, and can identify their students.  LTELs and Students at Risk of becoming LTELs should be the focus of the new local control funding and flexibility given to districts around the state that is meant to ensure that all students get the education they need.” said Xilonin Cruz Gonzalez, president of Californians Together.

“Every school district in the state needs to look at their LTEL numbers, focus on those students and develop high quality language and academic instructional approaches to accelerate their language and academic development”, said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, Executive Director of Californians Together.

Some school districts are doing just that.

Preventing Students from Becoming LTELs:  Seven school districts in northern and one southern California district are focused on grades preK-3rd implementing the highly successful Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) model that was designed to prevent English Learner students from ever becoming LTELs.  SEAL powerfully develops the language and literacy skills of young English Learner children through an intensive approach that emphasizes language development throughout the school day through integrated standards-based thematic units and curriculum incorporating the Common Core standards, Next Generation Science standards, and state social studies standards.  In 30 schools, language and literacy is woven into all aspects of the school day. Utilizing rigorous and interactive instructional strategies, teachers support English Learners and others to reach high levels of language and literacy as well as academic mastery in science and social studies.

Addressing Students at Risk of Becoming LTELs:  For the past five years, the Center for Equity for English Learners (CEEL) at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles has partnered with five school districts in Southern and Central California to offer a successful project-based intervention program that has as its goal preventing at-risk English Learners from becoming LTELs by improving their academic achievement before leaving elementary school. The Journalism for English Learners Program seeks to improve the English skills and academic achievement of ELs in grades 3-5 who have been in United State schools at least four years; are at the beginning, early intermediate or intermediate English proficiency level; and scored below “basic” levels on state language arts assessments. The program is a specialized, intensive after-school intervention that focuses on the basic linguistic underpinnings of the English language through a real-world application of language skills culminating in the development of a community-based newspaper.

Serving and Accelerating LTELs:  Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has developed special classes to accelerate both the academic English Language Development and overall literacy skills of English Learners who have not met the criteria to be reclassified as English proficient after five full years of instruction in the district.  This program option ultimately aims to ensure that LTELs will have access to and meet A-G graduation requirements to be college-prepared and career-ready, ensure that these students are able to perform at a level comparable to their native-English speaking peers and reduce the risk of dropping out of school.  The two special LTEL courses provide opportunities to practice meaningful discourse about academic topics and to incorporate language development with intensive, accelerated literacy skills.  LTELs are concurrently placed in their core grade level English course with all other students (A-G English in High School) and one period of a specialized LTEL Language/Literacy course.  The LTEL courses have received credit approval by the University of California Office of the President as college preparation.  In the 2013-14 school year, the first year of implementation, the district served 40,000 LTELs.

“For many years we have failed to address the diverse linguistic and literacy needs of English Leaners in California and as a result many have incurred academic deficits that have resulted in the need for this program.  It is time that we begin the dialogue on how to improve the research and practice in this area so that in 5 years LAUSD will no longer need to have an LTEL program,” stated Hilda Maldonado, Director, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education Department.

For more details on the three programs cited see the links below and the contact information for persons directly related to these projects.

Californians Together is a statewide coalition of 25 parent, professional and civil rights organizations that mobilize communities to protect and promote the rights of 1.4 million English Learners, 23 percent of California’s students. Californians Together has served for 15 years as a statewide voice on behalf of language minority students in California public schools. The coalition is committed to access to quality education for all children.

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