February 20, 2004

Secretary Paige Announces New Policies to Help English Language Learners

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige today announced two new policies that will help students who are new to this country and the English language while also giving states and local school districts greater flexibility to help these students and still meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind education reform law. Secretary Paige made the announcement at a press conference accompanied by Latino singer Jon Secada, who came to the United States from Cuba and attended school in Miami as a new immigrant. Also in attendance were current English language learners, their parents and teachers.

The new policies take effect immediately for schools and districts with limited English proficient (LEP) students. A number of states have students representing more than 100 languages, making it very difficult to provide native language assessments for all students. There are 5.5 million LEP students in U.S. public schools.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools must show adequate yearly progress (AYP) in making sure that all students achieve academic proficiency in order to close the achievement gap. So that every child counts, NCLB requires states to include the academic achievement results of all students, including LEP students, in AYP calculations. LEP students new to the United States often have a difficult time participating in state assessments due to language barriers or the lack of schooling prior to coming to the United States from their native countries. Thus, it is often difficult to assess LEP students’ content knowledge in reading/language arts in their first year of enrollment in a U.S. public school.

The new flexibility will allow LEP students, during their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools, to have the option of taking the reading/language arts content assessment in addition to taking the English language proficiency assessment. They would take the mathematics assessment, with accommodations as appropriate. States may, but would not be required to, include results from the mathematics and, if given, the reading/language arts content assessments in AYP calculations, which are part of the accountability requirements under NCLB.

Since LEP students exit the LEP subgroup once they attain English language proficiency, states may have difficulty demonstrating improvements on state assessments for these students. Accordingly, the other new flexibility would, for AYP calculations, allow states for up to two years to include in the LEP subgroup students who have attained English proficiency. This is an option for states and would give states the flexibility to allow schools and local education agencies (LEAs) to get credit for improving English language proficiency from year-to-year.

“No Child Left Behind represents a promise for people who have come to this country - that they will be given a quality education,” said Secada. “It is an initiative that has been needed for a long time. The United States has always had a history of being a nation that has welcomed immigrants to its shores like me and countless others, which is why this new law is so important and ensures a brighter future for all children for a long time to come.”

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