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The "Why” Behind the Extended Four-Year Monitoring Period

Here’s a seemingly simple question: Why did ESSA extend the monitoring period for former ELLs to four years?  

One of the more interesting accountability changes in the new ESSA legislation has to do with the requirement that districts now must monitor former ELLs for four years instead of two. We were pleased to hear this at Ellevation, given our focus on supporting digital monitoring processes for school districts, and we aren’t alone. The Council of Great City Schools praised the change, and Dr. Wayne Wright’s recent webinar compliments the adjustment as well. But I couldn’t help wondering why the change was implemented in the first place. What were lawmakers thinking?

I considered three potential reasons why Congress would extend the monitoring period:

  1. Were they concerned for the academic success of mainstreamed former ELL students? It is true that an effective monitoring program for former ELLs can help ensure they make progress in content area classrooms. New York’s Part 154 regulations clearly take this to heart, requiring districts to either implement an effective monitoring platform (like Ellevation) or provide 90 minutes of supplemental weekly instruction. But it is also true that most former ELLs do quite well after they have acquired the language, often better than their peers, suggesting that additional monitoring may be overkill. So, what else might be behind the extended Monitoring period?
  2. Did they want to track graduation rates of ELLs? Today, too few districts can report whether ELLs who enter their programs actually emerge with a diploma, which is a missed opportunity to evaluate program efficacy. Extending the Monitoring period might help track ELLs through to graduation. But, while an extended Monitoring period will improve visibility into ELL graduation rates, it won’t be sufficient--especially  since many ELLs are reclassified in the late elementary grades. So again, this explanation doesn’t fit the facts.
  3. Did they want to make ELL performance look better? A number of observers have mentioned how tracking former ELLs for 4 years will “allow districts to count their successes for longer.” But in truth, former ELLs still will be excluded from conventional accountability measures for the ELL subgroup (proficiency growth, proficiency attainment, etc.). At least under the old AMAO way of thinking, the extended Monitoring period will have no impact on subgroup performance.

I think the answer might lie in the spirit of ESSA, which devolves much of the accountability planning to states. By bolstering the Monitoring requirement, the federal legislation has the effect of creating a more robust student sub-group that some states may now want to include in measures of accountability.

Will SEAs allow the academic performance of former ELLs to be a part of LEA performance evaluations? Sounds like a good idea to me. After all, if the purpose of an ELL program is to help students acquire the language needed to succeed academically, why shouldn’t LEAs be recognized when those former ELL students excel? Our friend David Deschryver has even suggested that the performance of former ELLs might merit a Title III award from the State--a new “carrot” to motivate district performance.

Click below to learn how Ellevation can help you support new ESSA requirements.