English Language Learners
The population of English learners (ELs) enrolled in Massachusetts public schools has more than doubled since 2001 to more than 90,000. These students enter school with tremendous potential and often must overcome significant barriers to succeed in school. Improving the teaching and learning of English learners is fundamental to raising their academic achievement. The Department has dedicated significant resources and efforts to improve the education of English learners and is committed to continuing its work in this area.
This email provides information regarding a development that we believe will further improve the education of English learners: the 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. Department staff will provide additional details at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on December 19, 2017.
Overview of New Law Supporting English Learners
On November 22, 2017, Governor Baker signed into law the LOOK Act. Broadly, the new law aims to provide districts with more flexibility as to the language acquisition programs they choose to meet the needs of English learners, while maintaining accountability for timely and effective English language acquisition. Below is a brief summary of the key implications of the law.
Language Acquisition Programming Flexibility and Oversight
- Provides districts with flexibility in choosing a language acquisition program that best fits the needs of their English learner population, while ensuring accountability through Department oversight.
- Requires districts that intend to offer new programs for English learners 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.
- Requires districts that intend to offer a new sheltered English immersion or alternative instructional English learner program in the next academic year to submit the required information to the Department and the district's parent advisory council by January 1 of the current academic year; this means that new English learner programs may commence no earlier than the 2019-2020 school year.
Increased Input from Parents and Guardians
- Requires districts that serve a significant population of English learners to create English Learner Parent Advisory Councils, made up of parents/guardians of English learners in the district.
- Requires districts to provide notification to parents/guardians of English learners regarding various topics, including their right to choose a language acquisition program among those offered by the district.
- Allows parents/guardians of English learners to select any language acquisition program offered by the district, provided that the program is appropriate for the age and grade level of the student.
- Allows parents/guardians to request a transfer of the student to another language acquisition program available in the district, subject to approval by the superintendent.
Requires the Department to establish licensure endorsements for various types of language acquisition programs (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 English learners for attaining English proficiency; (ii) guidelines to support districts in identifying English learners who do not meet benchmarks; and (iii) an English learner success template for use by districts to assist English learners who are not meeting English proficiency benchmarks.
- Requires districts to provide a copy of these materials from the Department to parents/guardians of English learners within specific timeframes.
- Requires districts to adopt procedures to identify English learners who do not meet the English proficiency benchmarks and establish various processes relating to them.
Data and Reporting
- Expands the reporting districts must submit to the Department about English learners.
- Establishes a data commission to study the collection and dissemination of data on English learners 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 English learners who are in pre-kindergarten.
Key Timelines for Implementation
Some of the key dates for implementation of the LOOK Act include:
- The Department will provide a list of endorsed educators to each district by June 1, 2018.
- Before the beginning of each school year, districts must verify that each language acquisition educator is properly endorsed.
- Districts serving 100 or more English learners or in which English learners comprise at least 5 percent of the district's student population, whichever is less, must establish English Learner Parent Advisory Councils for the 2018-19 school year.
- District submissions for new language acquisition programs are due January 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 school year.
- The Department will establish benchmarks, guidelines, and English learner success templates by September 1, 2018. Districts must adopt procedures relating to them no later than six months from their establishment (March 1, 2019).
- Data collected in response to the new reporting requirements must be submitted to the Department beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
- The State Seal of Biliteracy will be available for the 2018-19 school year after the Board establishes the applicable criteria.
The Department will work with districts and other stakeholders to ensure timely and smooth implementation of the LOOK Act. More information about the implementation of the LOOK Act will be posted as it becomes available.
Presentation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education December 19, 2017