Five Changes the New No Child Left Behind Makes for English Learners

By Brenda Calderon, Policy Analyst, Education Policy Project, NCLR

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This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously passed Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray  600-page bipartisan bill, the “Every Child Achieves Act” (ECAA) to make updates to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA, the nation’s largest federal K–12 law, best known as “No Child Left Behind,” has played a key role in providing aid to disadvantaged students from low-income communities.

Earlier this year, NCLR released its recommendations on Title III of ESEA, the provision dealing with English learners (ELs). As highlighted in our statistical brief, there are nearly five million ELs in the United States, 80 percent of whom are Spanish speakers. NCLR believes that having a strong federal role is important in getting ELs college- and career-ready. There are significant changes throughout the bill, but the changes highlighted here focus specifically on English learners.

  1. Accountability moved to state plans. Under current law, states receiving funds under Title III must hold schools accountable for increasing the number and percentage of ELs attaining proficiency along with other provisions. While this section of the bill was removed in the new version, all states are now accountable for moving ELs from the lowest levels of English proficiency to the state-determined proficient level and this criteria must be demonstrated in state plans.
  1. Eliminates Part B. No Child Left Behind offered a slew of competitive grant programs to enhance language instruction programs. These are nestled within the “Part B” section. It includes grants for professional development and funds for districts experiencing large influxes of immigrant children and youth. These programs were eliminated in the ECAA.
  1. New standardized entrance and exit procedures for ELs. Identification of ELs varies widely across and within states, meaning that a student may be identified as an EL in one district, but as a non-EL in another. The ECAA tries to remedy this by establishing standardized statewide entrance and exit procedures for students identified as ELs. It also sets a timeline for students to be assessed for EL status within 30 days of enrollment.

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  1. Evaluations removed. Under NCLB, entities that use Title III funds shall provide for an evaluation every two years that includes a description of the programs, progress of ELL students, the number and percentage of ELs meeting state academic standards, and other metrics. While this provision is no longer in the bill, the Secretary of Education must now conduct an evaluation of Title III programs.
  1. New categories of ELs. The ECAA creates reporting requirements on progress of two new EL categories: long-term EL and EL with a disability. A long-term EL is a student who has been in EL services for a minimum of five years. An EL with a disability is one who meets the criteria described in section 602 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

For more detailed information on changes to Title III please see our side-by-side.