Voices Vol 41 No 3

Five Important Topics at the Legislative Workshop

Legislative Concerns
Laurie Ramella, Karen Campbell, & Elizabeth Franks

By Elizabeth Franks

As educators of English learners, we must always be aware of legislative and policy changes which affect our students since, in actuality, we are not only educators but often the only advocates that our students have. Each year, during the Legislative Workshop, participants are informed about those changes and the impact they may have on ELLs.

Waiver Implementation

Karen Campbell, Director of the Office of Title I, addressed the participants in the Legislative Workshop on the particular components of the Waiver implementation for NCLB. Schools are  no longer required to reach 100% proficiency by 2013-2014. Therefore, they will no longer be identified as schools in need of improvement. Instead, the NJDOE has developed more reasonable, yet rigorous, achievement targets that are unique to each school and sub-population in the school. However, schools must still address the needs of any group of underperforming students

Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs): The NJDOE will calculate AMOs for schools and districts based on the goal of closing the achievement gap by half within six years. The AMOs set in annual equal increments toward a goal of reducing by half the percentage of students in the “all students” group and in each subgroup who are not proficient within six years. AMOs , also known as performance targets, were calculated for the state, districts, schools, and subgroups based on closing this gap in equal increments each year.  The current proficiency rates, which were based on assessments administered in the 2010–2011 school year, were used as the starting point for setting its AMOs.

The requirement is to allocate 1003(a), or Title I School Improvement Funds (SIA), to districts with the lowest achieving schools that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment for working with their schools to improve student achievement. Under the waiver, the NJDOE will allocate these funds to districts for use in Priority and Focus Schools to implement interventions.

New Formula to Calculate High School Graduation Rate

Federal regulations required all states to adopt a new formula for reporting graduation rates which began with the class of 2011.  Using this new formula, NJ's official statewide graduation rate for the class of 2011 was 83% as compared to 95% under the old calculation. The new rate only includes students who graduate within four years. Students who stay in school, but haven't graduated in four years count against districts in the new rate. But under the new guidelines, students who did not graduate in four years have the same impact on the overall graduation rate as dropouts. We know that ELLs contribute to the population who may need more than four years to graduate. The report by the NJ Department of Education of the 2011 graduation rates by subgroups documented that the graduation rate for ELLs was the lowest of all subgroups at 68%. So, schools which allow ELLs to stay additional time in order to graduate will be penalized for  “doing the right thing.”

Additionally, the new regulations also require districts to document student transfers more rigorously before removing a student from their rolls. This will be challenging for districts with high student mobility rates and large numbers of students transferring out of state or out of the country. But unless the transfers are well documented and schools can show that a student has enrolled in another degree-granting program, the students will remain on the original school's rolls and figure in graduation and dropout rate calculations.

HSPA, AHSA, the Appeals Process and the Proposed Changes
Data indicate that seventy-seven percent (77%) of ELLs do not pass the HSPA on the first attempt. More do pass upon subsequent administrations; however, the majority of ELLs rely on the Alternate High School Assessment (AHSA) to demonstrate mastery of skills. Some believe that the AHSA is not of significant rigor to show a student was “college and career ready.”  However, for ELLs, the AHSA is indeed more rigorous than the HSPA since students have to use extended discourse to explain their answers.

Having failed the HSPA and AHSA, nearly 2,000 students appealed in math and 840 in language arts, with roughly two-thirds in each category winning those appeals, according to numbers released by the state in May; again the majority of appeals are for ELLs. Both the AHSA and the HSPA will be phased out as the HSPA is ramped down over the next four years.

In place of the HSPA, the NJDOE proposes to develop multiple new end-of-course exams in both “core” and “non-core” subjects and requiring that students pass an undetermined number of those tests to graduate. Based on the obvious necessity of alternative pathways to demonstrate mastery on these high stakes assessments, we need to advocate that ELLs’ special situation be considered in the new iteration of assessments.

Teacher Evaluation and Regional Achievement Centers

A recommendation has been made to modify whatever teacher evaluation model is used in-district to address specific needs of ELLs (for all teachers). Teachers should not be criticized for not being rigorous if using visuals in classes with ELLs.  Common Core State Standards stress reading grade level text and reading with minimal pre-reading scaffolds. However, for ELLs, pre-teaching vocabulary and building background knowledge are key features of best practices for this population. Bilingual and ESL teachers must be the advocates in their districts to educate general education teachers and administrators about the importance of these scaffolds. When viewing the growth model that is proposed, consider the research that WIDA has completed that documents the trend: the lower the proficiency level and grade level the greater the growth; the higher the proficiency level and grade level, the slower the growth. Once again, the ELL subgroup demonstrates clearly that “one size does not fit all.”

The NJDOE is proposing to develop seven regional centers which will provide support for student achievement in priority and focus schools. Three ELL specialists will be in support of the work of the centers. However, at press time, the funding to support these centers was in doubt.

Seal of Biliteracy
Many districts in California award a Seal of Biliteracy to graduating seniors who have attained proficiency in English and one or more world languages. Several organizations in California collaborated to develop this recognition. It began with individual districts formalizing this honor and last year it was signed into law. Just recently similar legislation has been introduced in New York state.

NJTESOL-NJBE is initiating a grassroots effort to recognize students in our state who attain proficiency in two or more languages. This Seal of Biliteracy encourages all students to become excellent communicators in two or more languages and prepares students with 21st century language and communication skills. This recognition is consistent with the Common Core State Standards by confirming that students are “college and career ready.” Bilingual students will be leaders in the areas of international trade, the global economy, and public services vital to our diverse communities

This summer a committee will establish suggested criteria for the Seal of Biliteracy which individual school districts could adopt. At the same time, NJTESOL-NJBE will galvanize legislative support in order to officially recognize these students at the state level. We strongly believe that this recognition will encourage our English speakers to become proficient in another language while respecting the rich resource that our bilingual children bring with them

Ultimately, NJTESOL/NJBE would like to work with school districts to adopt pathway awards designed to encourage preschool, elementary, and middle school students to develop proficiency in English and another language leading to the Seal of Biliteracy.

Elizabeth Franks is the Socio-political Concerns representative for NJTESOL-NJBE.