Reclassification Rates of English Language Learners

 

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Awards Wall by JIsc infoNet (CC BY-NC-ND)

 

In our elementary school, English Learners (EL) represent 33% of the student body. Last year (2014-15), 10% of EL students were redesignated as Fluent-English-Proficient (FEP). Compared to a 4% FEP reclassification rate five years prior, this could be considered an improvement. Yet, the last three years have seen a steady reduction in FEP reclassification rates (RFEP)- from 16% (2012-13) to 12 % (2013-14) to 10% (2014-15). Our reclassification rate appears to be leveling off. I’m wondering why, and also to what extent EL reclassification rates reflect on the quality of a school’s instruction and/or library services- if at all.

First, the why: More rigorous performance standards (the minimum tests scores and qualitative data, such as teacher feedback, that students must obtain in order to be reclassified) are associated with lower reclassification rates. So, the schools that make it more difficult to get out of EL status have a lower reclassification rate. The state board of education (SBE) provides guidelines on the standards but allows districts to create their own- and 90% of school districts adopt standards that are more rigorous than those recommended by the SBE.  There are two main things at play here that may affect reclassification rates: 1) the new CCSS testing environment necessitates a revision of district-specified scoring mechanisms; 2) changes in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that increases funding for districts with large EL populations, potentially providing a disincentive to move kids up to FEP status.

Even though the reclassification issue is most sensitive for long term (6+ yrs) EL students in middle and high school where being an EL student starts effecting ACT scores, access to AP classes, and even graduation- I am still interested in understanding reclassification rates at the elementary level. It seems like a real catch 22; you don’t want to reclassify them too early, putting them into classes where they are unable to learn core concepts, and you don’t want to keep them in EL status too long, limiting their access to appropriate academic content and increasing stigma and demoralization.

Across the Twitterverse there appears to be a generalized concern about low reclassification rates (and a lot of celebrating of RFEP status). A recent report (Hill, Weston & Hayes, 2014) on reclassification of EL students in California recommends that reclassification standards be lowered in districts using standards more rigorous than those suggested in the SBE guidelines, and that perhaps all districts should follow a statewide standard reclassification criteria that is less rigorous. Some of the report’s key points:

  • Reclassified students not only outperform EL students, but also often do as well as native English speakers when it comes to measures of academic outcomes. But it’s best to reclassify early—those reclassified in grades 8 to 12 generally have lower levels of performance than those reclassified at younger grades.
  • It is possible that districts with high reclassification thresholds (strict fluency standards) are restricting the access of EL students to the full range of academic instruction that non-EL students receive, which would squelch the academic achievement of high-performing EL students.
  • Reclassified students’ outcomes are better in school districts with more rigorous performance thresholds, but not by much, calling into question if the trade-off between improved RFEP outcomes and fewer RFEP students is worth it.  

I don’t know what to think. Please chime in if you have some thoughts or experience with this.

Getting back to how and if the library has anything to do with reclassification rates: We know that students acquire critical grammar, vocabulary and text structure needed to comprehend the academic language found in textbooks through self-selected recreational reading. To that extent, the school library is supporting EL students by providing a wide range of reading materials and giving students free range to indulge their interests. I also think that having a good selection of native language books (in our case, Spanish) available would be helpful because background knowledge and general literacy in the native language both affect the rate at which students perform academically in English; reading skills are reading skills- they transfer from language to language. Literacy as a baseline skill is used to develop higher-order thinking skills. I don’t think lower reclassification rates directly reflect on the quality of a school’s instruction, but I do think that instruction in a student’s native language facilitates the acquisition of English, and that policies discouraging native-language use in the classroom (or materials in the library, for that matter) will diminish EL student engagement.

 

References

Hill, L. E., Weston, M., & Hayes, J. M. (2014). Reclassification of English learner students in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrived from http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_114LHR.pdf

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