Revise federal policy on classification of English language learner

Written by: David Klayton
Published on: May 2, 2023

English Language Learner
Photo credit: Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe Stock

Linguistic diversity is growing in U.S. K-12 schools, and how schools serve multilingual students can have significant ramifications on their academic trajectories. In 2014–2015, over 4.8 million English language learners (ELLs), or 10% of the total K-12 student population, were enrolled in U.S. schools (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.), and the number is increasing (National Center for Education Statistics, 20). Federal policy on the classification of ELLs therefore broadly impacts educational opportunities for a significant, increasing component of the overall student body. However, studies have indicated an ineffectiveness of the classification system (e.g., Abedi, 2008; Callahan, 2005; Mavrogordato & White, 2017; Umansky & Reardon, 2014). Bond (2020) dichotomizes viewpoints on the classification system as compartment or fluid, with the former seeking consistency in classification criteria and the latter allowing for more flexibility. In this article, intended primarily for policymakers, I present an argument in favor of the compartment viewpoint. Federal policy on the classification of ELLs must be revised due to the questionable validity of classification criteria and the systemic inequity of reclassification and tracking. I present a legal argument for changes to policy that reflect greater consistency in classification criteria and facilitate more equitable learning opportunities for ELLs.

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 TESOL Journal