How Good Is Good Enough? Moving California's English Learners to English Proficiency
A only 9.6 percent of English Learners (ELs) in California public schools were redesignated to Fluent English Proficient status during the 2005-06 school year. According to one state education department study, only one-third of those who start in kindergarten are reclassified by fifth grade. This prompted state Superintendent Jack O’Connell to instruct school districts to reexamine their reclassification policies and procedures.
Reclassification rates vary significantly from one school district to the next. School districts discussed range from Riverside’s Alvord Unified, where 1 percent of ELs were reclassified as proficient last year, to Glendale Unified, where 19.7 percent of ELs were reclassified.
Some school districts set higher bars for reclassification than others, requiring higher scores on state tests, writing or math proficiency and passing grades. However, some districts with high requirements also have high reclassification rates because of effective instruction, close monitoring of students' progress and a higher percentage of ELs from middle-class and Asian families.
State and federal policies may delay reclassification: Districts lose extra funding when students leave EL status; they also may find it harder to meet state goals for improving English proficiency as the most proficient students are reclassified. Are California’s EL students learning English and academic skills?
Are they learning the skills but getting stuck in an “EL track” that leads nowhere? This paper explores these and other questions.