What are the implications of ESSA for English learners

By Dr. Christopher R. McBride, Mariposa Academy of Language and Learning
(This is cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders Blog.)

Latino students represent one of four students in classrooms across the United States and are projected to represent about one in three students by 2030. There are nearly five million English learner (EL) students and 80 percent of them are Spanish speakers. Furthermore, in 2013 only about 61 percent of EL students graduated high school compared to an average of about 75 percent of Hispanic students and over 86 percent of White students. Clearly our Latino and EL populations are growing and we, as a nation, are not meeting their educational needs. If we do not do a better job educating these students to prepare them to succeed in college and life afterward, we will all suffer.

Aware of the facts around Latino and EL students, the question weighing on the minds of many educational leaders is, “How will the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) impact our ability to close the achievement gap for Latinos and English learners?” The answer to this question is that it depends on the specific implementation in your state. ESSA has provided for increased funding for ELs by increasing Title III authorization levels. ESSA also leaves greater discretion to states to develop suitable accountability systems for when they are failing groups of students and has moved accountability for ELs from Title III to Title I. Therefore, it is critical to the success of Latinos and ELs students that states adopt provisions to better track and improve the educational performance of ELs.

EDUCATION girl with computer

Fortunately, ESSA requires that all schools must demonstrate that they are improving the English proficiency of ELs as English language proficiency is now a required indicator in every state’s school accountability system. This should encourage states to increase resources for ELs. Additionally, Title III will now require states to disaggregate ELs with a disability from the EL subgroup as well as report the number of ELs who have not attained English proficiency within five years of identification as an English learner.

So what can educational leaders do to help ensure that ESSA leads to the greatest possible achievement outcomes for Latino and EL students? Be at the table when your state is designing the accountability system to give your input on what are appropriate goals and indicators to help put every student on the path to college- and career-readiness. The accountability measures must include assessment performance, high school graduation rate, one or more additional academic indicators for elementary and middle school, language proficiency progress, and at least one other indicator of school quality or student success. What should the goals be? What should all of the indicators be and how much weight should they have? These are big questions. The answers and implementation in your state will have profound impacts on Latino and EL students.

I wish that I had the answers to all of these questions. The truth is, I don’t. What I do know, however, is that when local school leaders have input into answering these questions and designing the implementation, there is a much greater likelihood that Latino and EL students will graduate from high school college- and career-ready. As a school leader in Nevada, with a student population over 40 percent Latino and around 75,000 ELs, this is critical to the long-term well-being of our state.

Dr. Christopher R. McBride is the Director of Mariposa Academy of Language and Learning, a pre-K–5 charter school that has the mission to put every student on the pathway to graduate high school with a seal of biliteracy, prepared for college, and life success, in Reno, Nevada.

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