Study: Illinois among worst at measuring progress of English learner students

ARLINGTON, Va.—The Lexington Institute recently unveiled the first-ever study comparing how Illinois and six other states are responding to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements affecting English language learners. The study found that, overall, NCLB is having a positive effect on how immigrant students are taught in American classrooms.

However, the study was critical that Illinois lowered its standards to meet NCLB requirements. In fact, Illinois standards are among the nation’s lowest when it comes to measuring “adequate progress” made by English learner students.

The paper found Illinois boasts the highest percentage of students making progress toward those standards. “It would be difficult to demonstrate this is because they are doing a better job than the other states of educating LEP students,” the report concludes.

Overall, the study found 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 substantially more progress when it comes to teaching English than before NCLB was passed.

This study is expected to have a dramatic impact on the debate over NCLB, which has become a political lightning rod because it places serious implications on the progress schools make teaching English fluency.

In addition to Illinois, the paper analyzes the six other states with the largest populations of English learners—Arizona, Florida, California, 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’ gender, ethnicity and income level. In addition, there is another 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.

The study also critiques how NCLB regulates the formulas 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.

The study finds Illinois’ state law requiring schools to offer bilingual education is unrealistic and will hurt the state’s chances of meeting NCLB student achievement requirements.

NCLB is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress in 2007.

From the Dec. 7-13, 2005, issue

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