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Improving Accountability for English Learners in California

Californians Together, a statewide education advocacy coalition, has introduced a new framework for accountability focused on the needs of English learner (EL) students in California, with the support of 20 organizations including Advancement Project California, California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), Education Trust–West, Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL), and UnidosUS. Their brief, The Accountability System English Learners Deserve: Framework for an Effective and Coherent Accountability System for ELs,”examines the state’s current system, identifies areas of improvement, sets aspirational goals for what a structure that is transparent and honest about EL needs could achieve, and outlines steps to build a framework that supports all levels of the state’s educational system and moves toward a more equitable and assets-oriented approach. 

The framework also provides recommendations for addressing high-priority gaps that require urgent action, especially in light of the COVID-19 era. Led by Laurie Olsen, PhD, the framework was developed by Californians Together’s coalition members and educators across the state. 

“If we don’t have an accurate representation of where our EL students stand, we don’t have a way to ensure that we’re adequately meeting their needs. Especially in a pandemic, it will require a full commitment to help them catch up to their peers in the coming years,” says Martha Hernández, executive director of Californians Together. 

Californians Together hopes that state leaders will use the brief as a guide in their current development of the academic growth models for mathematics and language arts, in determining English learner progress, and in setting higher expectations for districts and schools. Use of the framework will support and enhance the implementation of the vision set forth in the California English Learner Roadmap Policy. California needs to adopt an accountability system that fosters, motivates, and uses multiple measures to inform continuous improvement for equitable student outcomes, especially for English learners. 

“Our current system makes it difficult to assess improvement accurately because it continues to mask EL outcomes on key academic indicators and set low expectations for districts to support language development,” says Hernández. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, our state should utilize the break in normal activity due to the worldwide pandemic to reassess and update policy decisions related to English learner outcomes. We owe it to our students to build a statewide system to support English learners to reach their full potential.” To read the full brief and for a list of all signers, visit:

The Five Components of an Effective and Coherent Accountability System for ELs

Setting high expectations for all schools and LEAs regarding EL achievement

Assessing and monitoring against those expectations (state accountability and district continuous improvement)

Ensuring action by identifying areas for improvement and promise

Engaging all levels of the system (including the state) with clear roles for the California Department of Education, the County Offices of Education, and the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence

Supporting key drivers of success throughout, including:

  1. Engaging stakeholders
  2. Providing transparency
  3. Establishing an equity imperative
  4. Focusing on meaningful continuous improvement
  5. Providing adequate resources
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