In New Briefs, UnidosUS and Achieve Explore States’ Commitment to Progress of English Learners

WASHINGTON, DC—UnidosUS (formerly NCLR) and Achieve released a set of briefs today that examine whether states’ education plans are in step with guidance set by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) when it comes to English learners (EL). The briefs titled, “How Have States Set Goals for English Leaners in ESSA Plans?” and “How Are States Including English Language Proficiency in ESSA Plans?,” provide an analysis of the English Language Proficiency (ELP) indicators and academic achievement goals proposed in state ESSA plans. The briefs examine whether states are taking meaningful steps to improve academic outcomes for EL students and provide recommendations to develop an accountability system that reflects that.

“Since its passage, the national education law, ESSA, has significantly altered the accountability landscape to ensure the academic performance and progress of ELs is a priority, and not an afterthought. For the more than five million EL students in the K-12 school system, this has been a welcome shift—but our work is not over. With help of our colleagues at Achieve, we will continue to monitor statewide implementation of state’s EL goals and provide assistance where needed so that our most underserved students reach their full potential,” said Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS.

“We are pleased to see a sharper focus on English learner student achievement under ESSA,” said Michael Cohen, President of Achieve. “However, as these new reports show, there is still room for improvement with regard to goal-setting for EL students in states’ ESSA plans. Alongside our colleagues at UnidosUS, we encourage states to set rigorous, meaningful academic achievement goals for English learners and to be transparent about how schools are helping—or not helping—students to progress.”

The briefs unveiled today offer a glimpse into how states are defining and measuring ELP standards and including ELP indicators into their accountability systems. The reports also examine the varied approaches states are employing to create long-term goals for English learners.

Achieve and UnidosUS’s analysis of state plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education revealed the following:

  • Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have set the same long-term achievement goals in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics for all student subgroups, while 29 states have set lower targets for their EL subgroups. Setting different goals for different groups of students only perpetuates disparities for historically underserved students; instead, states ought to be setting one high standard and offering the necessary supports to individual subgroups so that all students can reach that goal.
  • States’ target years to reach their long-term goals range from two to 30 years. There is also significant variation in how long states believe students need to become proficient in English, ranging from five to eight years.
  • The weight that states assign to the ELP indicator, which provides a strong signal to schools and districts about how EL progress is valued by the state, varies from three percent to 22.5 percent for high schools and from 3.5 percent to 30 percent for elementary/middle schools.

Both briefs also offer a set of recommendations for states to consider as they begin to implement their ESSA plans.

Achieve is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to working with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter.