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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Improving Education for English Learners - New Developments

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
December 8, 2017


The population of English Learners (ELs) enrolled in Massachusetts public schools has more than doubled since 2001. Currently, over 90,000 ELs are enrolled in Massachusetts public schools. These students enter school with tremendous potential, and often must overcome significant barriers to succeed in school. Improving the teaching and learning of ELs is fundamental to raising their academic achievement. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) has dedicated significant resources and efforts to improve the education of ELs and is committed to continuing its work in this area.

This memorandum provides information regarding two recent developments that we believe will further improve the education of ELs: (1) enactment of the "Act Relative to Language Opportunity for Our Kids," Chapter 138 of the Acts of 2017, commonly referred to as the LOOK Act; and (2) piloting of Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Endorsement courses for vocational technical educators. Department staff will provide additional details at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on December 19, 2017.

I. Overview of New Law Supporting English Learners

On November 22, 2017, Governor Baker signed into law the LOOK Act.1 Broadly, the new law aims to provide districts with more flexibility as to the language acquisition programs they choose to meet the needs of ELs, while maintaining accountability for timely and effective English language acquisition. Below is a brief summary of some of the key changes made by the new law.

Language Acquisition Programming Flexibility and Oversight

  • Provides districts with flexibility in choosing a language acquisition program that best fits the needs of their EL population, while ensuring accountability through Department oversight.
  • Requires districts that intend to offer new programs for ELs to submit specific information for review by the Department and the district's parent advisory council. All programs must be based on research and best practices.
  • If the Department finds that a proposed program fails to meet the applicable requirements, the Department will notify the district and provide the corrective steps that the district must take before commencing such a program.
  • Districts that intend to offer a new sheltered English immersion or alternative instructional English learner program in the next academic year must submit the required information to the Department and the district's parent advisory council by January 1 of the current academic year, which means new EL programs may open no earlier than the 2019-2020 school year.

Increased Input from Parents and Guardians

  • Requires districts that serve a significant population of ELs to create EL Parent Advisory Councils, made up of parents/guardians of ELs in the district.
  • Requires districts to provide notification to parents/guardians of ELs regarding various topics, including their right to choose a language acquisition program among those offered by the district.
  • Parents/guardians of ELs may select any language acquisition program offered by the district, provided that the program is appropriate for the age and grade level of the student.
  • Parents/guardians may request a transfer of the student to another language acquisition program available in the district, subject to approval by the superintendent.

Educator Qualifications

  • Requires the Department to establish licensure endorsements for various language acquisition program types (for example, Two-Way Immersion Programs).
  • Requires the Department to annually provide districts with reports of all educators who have current language acquisition program endorsements.
  • Requires districts to verify, prior to the beginning of each school year, that each educator in an English learner program is properly endorsed for that program.

Benchmarks, Guidelines and Templates

  • Requires the Department to establish: (i) benchmarks for attaining English proficiency for ELs; (ii) guidelines to support districts in identifying ELs who do not meet benchmarks; and (iii) an EL success template for use by districts to assist ELs who are not meeting English proficiency benchmarks.
  • Requires districts to provide a copy of these materials from the Department to parents/guardians of ELs within the timeframes specified in the law.
  • Requires districts to adopt procedures to identify ELs who do not meet the English proficiency benchmarks and establish various processes relating to them.

Data and Reporting

  • Expands EL related reporting requirements for districts to the Department.
  • Establishes a data commission to study the collection and dissemination of data on ELs and to make recommendations on streamlining data reporting.

State Seal of Biliteracy

  • Directs the Board to establish the State Seal of Biliteracy. Districts may award the seal to students who meet the state criteria in attaining a high level of proficiency in English and at least one other language.

Pre-K English Learners

  • Expands the student census requirement for districts to include ELs who are in Pre-Kindergarten.

II. Pilot SEI Endorsement Courses for Vocational Technical Educators

In June 2012, as part of the Department's Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners (RETELL) initiative, the Board adopted regulations that require core academic teachers who provide sheltered English instruction to ELs and administrators who supervise or evaluate them to obtain the SEI Endorsement. Since 2012, nearly 60,000 educators in the Commonwealth have obtained the SEI Endorsement. Almost 40,000 of those educators obtained the SEI Endorsement by successfully completing Department-sponsored SEI Endorsement courses. The initial plan was for 26,000 educators to obtain the SEI Endorsement. We are proud of the progress the Department has made to improve the instruction of ELs in the Commonwealth.

The current regulations cover core academic teachers in vocational technical schools and programs if they provide sheltered English instruction to ELs. The regulations do not, however, require vocational technical teachers providing instruction to ELs in vocational technical programs, such as automotive technology, cosmetology, and plumbing, to obtain the SEI Endorsement. At a meeting of the Board several years ago, a member asked whether it might be advisable to expand the SEI Endorsement requirements to include vocational technical teachers who provide instruction to ELs. The U.S. Department of Justice has also expressed interest in this issue.

Earlier this year, Commissioner Mitchell Chester assembled a committee of vocational technical education leaders to consider whether vocational technical teachers who provide instruction to ELs would benefit from SEI training. The committee agreed that vocational teachers providing instruction to ELs would benefit from SEI training. Based on the committee's review, the Department is launching two pilot SEI Endorsement courses for vocational technical teachers starting this month. The courses will be held at Greater Lawrence Regional Vocational Technical School and Worcester Technical High School. Participation in the pilot courses is voluntary, and about 50 teachers in total are participating. Along with the work of the committee, the information gathered from these pilot courses will help inform future recommendations to the Board.

At the December 19th Board meeting, Senior Associate Commissioner Heather Peske; Paul Aguiar, Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement; Arabela Thomas, Associate General Counsel; and Judith Klimkiewicz, Management Consultant for College, Career, and Workforce Development, will be present to provide further detail.



Last Updated: December 11, 2017
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