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Understanding Which English Learners Are Counted on School Accountability Measures—and When
Press Release
Thursday, March 12, 2020

Understanding Which English Learners Are Counted on School Accountability Measures—and When

WASHINGTON – The federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) requires states to publicly report annual performance and graduation rates for students in a range of areas, breaking out results for subgroups with unique characteristics, including English Learners (ELs). The objective is to help schools identify and close achievement gaps experienced by historically underserved groups of students.

While ESSA requires each state to develop a uniform definition of ELs so schools can identify students for instructional services, particular students are included or excluded from the EL subgroup on different accountability measures. These practices are intended to make accountability systems fairer; yet the benefits of these systems can be undercut if the nuances are not clearly communicated.

The wealth of data collected on ELs is meant to help policymakers, practitioners and community members identify schools that need to do a better job of helping these students learn. But for this to be possible, it must be clear who states are including in the EL subgroup—something that varies across types of data and that is not always clearly marked on state student performance reports or online dashboards.

A new brief from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy delves into the variations of the EL subgroup to provide data users with a better understanding of EL accountability for decision making purposes. It also discusses how breaking data out further for certain groups of ELs, such as newcomers, students with interrupted formal education and long-term ELs, could benefit decision-making.

The author, MPI Senior Policy Analyst for Pre-K-12 Education Julie Sugarman, finds that while ESSA requires states to establish uniform procedures for entering students into EL status and exiting them when they reach English proficiency, there is variance in identification procedures (such as screening for entry, standardized tests, cutoff scores and additional criteria).

As a result, “a student could be identified as an EL in one state and not in another,” Sugarman writes. “This means that a student could receive support services in one state, then move to another and not qualify for services.”

Sugarman and Margie McHugh, who directs the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, delve into the nuances of this topic in a podcast accompanying the release of the brief, Which English Learners Count When? Understanding State EL Subgroup Definitions in ESSA Reporting. To catch the conversation, click here.

The brief is the latest in a series intended to help parents, community members, education advocates and others understand issues surrounding ESSA’s data collection and policies surrounding the nation’s approximately 5 million ELs.

The brief is available here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/state-english-learner-subgroup-definitions-essa.

And for the Center’s collection of work on English Learners and 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.