California Bill Would Redefine Dual Language Learners

A new bill in the California State Assembly could change the way educators work with and accommodate the unique needs of dual language learners (DLLs) enrolled in the state’s preschool system. California Assembly Member Luz Rivera has introduced Assembly Bill 1363, which would create a new definition of DLLs in an effort to take a more asset-based approach to early childhood education for DLLs, rather than defining students by limited English proficiency.

“Right now if you look at the current statute, (DLLs) are referred to as ‘limited English-speaking proficient,’” says Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, deputy director of Californians Together, which has been rallying support for AB-1363. “That language, we have moved far away from at the K-12 level and so this would not only create a definition of what a DLL is, but the really important part is that it’s creating a definition that’s focused on the assets of the students.”

The bill, introduced in February, was recently re-referred to the Committee on Education. The bill defines the term DLL to refer to any child from birth to the age of five years old who is learning two or more languages at a time, or who is continuing to develop their native language while learning a second language such as English. Cruz-Gonzalez explains that this new language serves to define DLLs according to their linguistic strengths, rather than adhering to the current deficit-based and English-centric definition. The new definition emphasizes the fact that educators can work to refine a DLL’s skills in both languages.

“We’re really thinking about these students as DLLs with the potential of becoming biliterate if we support their language skills,” Cruz-Gonzalez says.

In addition to redefining the way early childhood educators and administrators look at DLLs, the bill also paves the way for the state to begin collecting more thorough data on how many DLLs are enrolled in the state’s preschool programs. Currently, Cruz-Gonzalez says the state doesn’t really have a good way of tracking and reporting such data, making it difficult to accommodate students as they move through the education system. The data collected would also include information on the language composition of the staff of a given preschool program.

“It’s really important for us as a state to understand how many of these students are getting access to these programs and for the provider to have knowledge about these students if they have a second language coming in because then they are able to support these students in their learning,” added Cruz-Gonzalez.

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