California Better Positioned to Meet NCLB Requirements

Arlington, VA: The Lexington Institute in October unveiled the first-ever study comparing how California - and six other states - are responding to NCLB requirements affecting English Language Learners. The study found that, overall, NCLB is having a positive effect on how immigrant students are taught in California classrooms.
This study is expected to have a dramatic impact on the debate over NCLB, which has become a political lightning rod as immigration numbers soar and Spanish-speaking students flood into California schools.
Currently, 11 California districts are suing the government because they feel the state's plans for implementing NCLB give them inadequate tools to meet its educational challenges.
In addition to California, the paper analyzes the six other states with the largest populations of English learners - Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. It details in a side-by-side comparison what each state has done to comply with NCLB, and how successful those changes have been.
The study -- "Making Uneven Strides: State Standards for Achieving English Language Proficiency Under the No Child Left Behind Act" -- is authored by Christine Rossell, one of the nation's most prominent experts on English language learning and a professor at Boston University.
The report focuses on a lynchpin of the NCLB law -- its rigorous accountability system for students' academic progress. No Child Left Behind requires schools to show adequate results for all students, and also for each of a number of subgroups broken down by such factors as students' sex, ethnicity and income level. In addition, there is no other subgroup for students with Limited English Proficiency, which is arguably the most controversial category, because it is largely defined by students' test scores in the first place.
According to the study, nowhere has No Child Left Behind had a greater impact at the classroom level than in the education of English Learners.
Specifically, the study found that most states do a significantly better job measuring English fluency and tracking students' progress toward fluency as a result of NCLB. Further, English instruction programs are now making significantly more progress when it comes to teaching English than before NCLB was passed.
The study was not without criticism. It found that the process whereby English learners in California are reclassified as fluent in English, an important yardstick for success according to NCLB, is unnecessarily complicated and actually slows down student progress in this key area.
The study also critiques how NCLB regulates the formulas that each state uses to measure student achievement. It reviews NCLB's requirements side by side with real results to date, pointing out which states are likely to meet NCLB goals in the coming years, and which are not.
It found that California -- as the first state to adopt a single statewide English proficiency test -- is better positioned to meet NCLB requirements.
Finally, the study offers policymakers a detailed blueprint for improving these formulas to make the requirements fairer for all states. NCLB is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress in 2007.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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