ACSA bill may help as ESEA focuses on diverse student groups

ACSA-sponsored legislation to build capacity for addressing the needs of English learners and students with disabilities may be the answer to concerns in the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Assembly Bill 2095, Brownley, D-Santa Monica, seeks to ensure that required elements of the state’s standards, curriculum, assessment and teacher training tools are strengthened and deepened for the support of English Learners and students with disabilities. AB 2095 strives to move beyond state and federal labels of failing to a role of state support for closing the achievement gap.

U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., stated at a hearing on the issue of the reauthorization that the needs of these students is the driving force behind the most recent overhaul of federal K-12 education policy, which has been called No Child Left Behind since 2001.

Castle is the senior Republican member on the House Education and Labor Committee and its Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.

Castle’s statement indicated a strong concern for meeting the needs of English learners and students with disabilities. He particularly noted NCLB’s requirement of reporting out on the achievement of various student subgroups as an effort to ensure these students are progressing.

"This new focus on diverse learners has presented significant challenges to states, school districts and schools, who have struggled to make changes in teacher professional development, curriculum, and instructional strategies to ensure diverse student populations have every opportunity to meet high academic standards," Castle said. "We owe it to these students to ensure they receive the same high-quality education as their peers. But we also owe it to states and local areas to give them the tools necessary to educate students with a wide range of needs.

"Current law was crafted under the guiding principles that all students can and deserve to learn – diverse student populations being no exception. As we begin rewriting ESEA this year, we cannot lose sight of this."

Castle said he hoped ESEA reauthorization hearings would show examples of how educators in different states have been working to ensure student achievement among all student groups, and where they have faced the greatest challenges.

"Finally, I look forward to suggestions about how to reform ESEA to ensure that it accounts for the complexities that states, school districts, and schools must address in educating diverse learners, especially how we ensure that they are properly assessed so that teachers and school administrators can develop appropriate strategies," Castle said.

One place Castle could look for such a suggestion is to AB 2095, the main points of which include:

•Educators need teaching strategies and guidance for students with disabilities imbedded into the curriculum frameworks and instructional materials in the four core subject areas in order to address the needs of these students. Students with disabilities need teachers trained to differentiate their instruction using multiple strategies so they can succeed in all four core subjects and be successful on state standards tests. AB 2095 provides teachers the training in the application of the Response to Intervention model to accomplish these goals.

•By incorporating the State Board-adopted English Language Development standards into curriculum frameworks and, as appropriate, instructional materials, teachers of English learners would be able to work with students in mathematics, reading/language arts, science and history/social science to gain mastery of English and content knowledge. This would provide additional support for English learners and improve their coursework and standardized test success.

•Current assessments for English learners don’t distinguish between content knowledge and linguistic proficiency in English. AB 2095 would require this distinction. AB 2095 ensures that students with disabilities using accommodations or modifications during state testing would not have their scores invalidated for purposes of state accountability and must have their Individual Education Plan requirements considered when assessments are given.

•AB 2095 ensures that instructional materials, curriculum frameworks, assessments and professional development are imbedded with strategies and standards supporting approximately 2 million English learners and students with disabilities in order to further close the achievement gap for these important student groups.

ACSA will provide more information on AB 2095 as it makes its way through the Capitol.