Federal and state law requires proper identification and annual language proficiency assessment of students whose first language is not English, or who struggle to complete ordinary classroom work in English (G.L. c. 71A; Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act – NCLB). The law also requires that students identified as ELs (also referred to as “students with limited English proficiency,” or “LEP students” in federal laws and guidance, and “English learner” in state law) are provided with opportunities to receive instruction that is appropriate for their individual language proficiency level, allows them to develop English language proficiency, and affords them equal access to rigorous content area instruction and academic achievement alongside their native English speaking peers. In Massachusetts, this means that, with limited exceptions, districts are required to provide ELs Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) instruction until they are proficient in English. SEI consists of both sheltered content area instruction and English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction. Once proficient in English, ELs are to be exited from language programs (G.L. c. 71A § 4) and monitored for a period of two years.
English Learners are among the most diverse student groups in Massachusetts and across the nation, representing a range of cultural, linguistic, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They bring their school communities a wealth of cultural and linguistic assets, as well as additional cognitive, social, emotional, political, and economic potential.
On November 22, 2017, Governor Baker signed into law the “Act Relative to Language Opportunity for Our Kids,” Chapter 138 of the Acts of 2017, commonly referred to as the LOOK Act, which amended certain sections of G.L. c. 69, 70 and 71A. The law aims to provide districts with more flexibility in determining the design and implementation of English Learner Education (ELE) programs to meet the needs of ELs, while maintaining accountability for timely and effective English language acquisition. In view of recent changes in the law under the LOOK Act, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (the Department) has issued this updated guidance to assist school district personnel in building and sustaining successful ELE programs that support ELs to learn English, access rigorous academic content, and meet the same challenging expectations for college and career held for all Massachusetts students.
Education is a basic right of all children in the United States, including students who are ELs. Federal civil rights laws, namely, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), require schools to take appropriate steps to address the language barriers that prevent ELs from meaningfully participating in their education. Courts and federal guidance have interpreted these provisions to require districts to provide sufficient language and academic support to enable ELs to become English proficient and meet academic standards in a timely manner. In addition, federal education laws such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2016 (ESSA), address specific requirements for supporting ELs.
The Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners (RETELL) initiative in place in Massachusetts since 2011, is a multifaceted approach to addressing the needs of ELs. It is designed to provide ELs access to effective instruction and to close proficiency gaps. A key component of RETELL is SEI training for core academic teachers and career vocational technical teachers of ELs and certain administrators who supervise/evaluate such teachers. RETELL also features the use of the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) English language proficiency standards and assessment framework and ongoing opportunities for educators and administrators to extend their skills and knowledge related to educating ELs.