English Language Learner reclassification varies throughout country
- The point at which English Language Learners are “reclassified” into English proficient status can vary between states and school districts, but this will soon change, as uniform statewide reclassification policies are mandatory under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
- A recent study found that reclassification practices could have divergent effects between districts. There was no consistency between whether student graduation rates increased with their reclassification; in some districts, students who just barely made the cut off for reclassification were 80% less likely to graduate, but in others, they were 38% more likely to graduate.
- Joseph Robinson Cimpian, the lead author and an NYU associate professor of economics and education policy, said statewide reclassification policies could make it easier to judge a district’s progress, but could make it harder to offer unique services.
The ESSA guidelines demand that states adopt a uniform standard for when reclassification should occur, but this could make targeting the unique challenges some ELL students face more difficult. Critics argue that more diverse approaches in judging reclassification are required. According to Education Week, 30 states exclusively rely on test scores to judge English proficiency, while only 15 states take teacher perspectives into account. A teacher’s viewpoint could be beneficial in helping districts understand a student’s progress; perhaps educators who directly work with a student would know if they need more preparation for a classroom setting.
The demand for uniform state reclassification policies could also be problematic if standards are set too low, potentially endangering students’ achievement if they enter English-proficiency status prematurely. With local school districts facing austerity measures from states and the federal government, teachers and administrators should be concerned that there may not be funding for services if it becomes clear in years to come that some students were prematurely reclassified. However, research also indicates that the earlier ELL students are placed in English proficiency, the better the outcomes, so states should neither be too hesitant to reclassify.