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MPI Analysis of All State ESSA Accountability Plans Finds Fractured Picture of Education Policy for English Learners & Differing Approaches
Press Release
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

MPI Analysis of All State ESSA Accountability Plans Finds Fractured Picture of Education Policy for English Learners & Differing Approaches

WASHINGTON – Four years since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have developed accountability plans that include blueprints for serving English Learners (ELs), as well as measuring these students’ progress and being accountable for their outcomes. This marked a significant development, as EL performance was previously not well integrated with factors that determined whether a school was performing well or poorly.

Although state ESSA plans are intended to offer a clear vision for the future of EL education policy, they instead present a fractured picture and considerable variation in approaches to accountability, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy finds.

The report, The Patchy Landscape of State English Learner Policies under ESSA, takes a deep dive into all of the state ESSA plans. It offers a detailed analysis meant to be useful to parents, education advocates, teachers and others interested in education for the nation’s nearly 5 million ELs, who comprise about 10 percent of students in public K-12 schools.

The authors, Leslie Villegas and Delia Pompa, find that the plans are difficult to read, offering often-scattered information that creates a fractured and incomplete picture of EL education and little clarity on how EL performance counts in school accountability ratings. “As a result, EL education policies remain disjointed and inaccessible to local education officials, teachers and education advocates, within and across states,” they write.

To bring some clarity, the report examines, state by state, the policies that govern how students are identified as ELs, how they are assessed, how they exit from EL status once they reach proficiency, how their academic achievement is tracked and the extent to which they are included in state accountability systems.

ESSA has fostered more consistency within (though not between) states on matters such as EL identification and reclassification procedures, the report finds. However, the law has “starkly obvious” shortcomings in other critical areas. For example, it provides no guidance to states on how to address cases involving ELs who do not reach proficiency within the state-determined timeline., nor does it guide states on the treatment of students who age out of services before they reach expected proficiency.

“Ultimately, it is too soon to say definitively what impact [ESSA] will have on ELs’ academic and English acquisition outcomes,” the authors conclude. “However, as more data are collected in the coming years, education researchers, policymakers and advocates can use this analytical framework to improve understanding of EL policies and how they may need to be refined in particular states to achieve the law’s goal of ensuring accountability for every student’s success.”

The report is available here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/state-english-learner-policies-essa.

For the Center’s collection of work on ESSA, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/nciip-english-learners-and-every-student-succeeds-act-essa

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.