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.