Dissertation Spotlight: How the Local-Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) Impacts Long-Term English Learners
Elementary and secondary education in the United States provides a rich multicultural experience for those lucky enough to experience it – and understand it. For those who come into the system not yet knowing English, however, it can go either way. On the one hand, many students benefit hugely from an English-speaking milieu and quickly pick up the language. On the other hand, many others really struggle to learn English.
John Paul Sanchez, EdD, addresses the issue of poor English acquisition in his dissertation “The Impact of Local-Control Accountability Plan Implementation on Long Term English Learners,” which he has presented to local-control accountability committees at Corona-Norco Unified School District. Sanchez is the director of Student Services at Corona-Norco Unified School District in California and earned his Doctorate of Education in Educational Administration from Concordia University-Portland. Let’s take a closer look at his work to see what he has uncovered.
Long-term English learners (LTELs)
When students stay mired in poor English acquisition, over a period of six years, they transition from English language learners (ELLs) to long-term English learners (LTELs). According to The Glossary of Education Reform, LTEL “is a formal educational classification given to students who…are not progressing toward English proficiency, and who are struggling academically due to their limited English skills.” Without progress, the lack of English skills will continue to haunt them throughout their tenure in American schools and most likely hamper them from continuing on to higher education.
Sanchez digs deeper by asking these key questions:
- Why is this happening?
- How does it correlate with local education agencies (LEAs)?
- What can we learn from those correlations to adjust expectations and create local-control accountability plans (LCAPs), designating the use of interventions to achieve desired results?
Sanchez examines the methodologies of 20 local education agencies in a qualitative study.
According to a recent report by Laurie Olsen, PhD, “There is a need to close the achievement gap of EL students from becoming LTEL students, a gap that has the potential to continue to widen.” Furthermore, Olsen states that half of English learners who enter an English Language Development program will become LTELs in secondary education. Sanchez’s study is designed to ascertain if local-control accountability indicators should be aligned to current education code and academic literacy practices in order to stop and reverse the negative increase of LTEL students.
As of the 2013-2014 school year, WestEd reports that “regional data from New York City, Chicago, Colorado, and California indicate that the percentage of LTEL students among the secondary EL population in those areas ranged from 23% to 74%.” More frightening, “the number of LTELs in California secondary schools grew from 344,862 in 2008-2009 to 380,995 in 2015-2016; in other words, the percentage of LTEL students among the total EL population in secondary schools increased in seven years by 20 percentage points.”
The problem is not going away, and it brings with it:
- Greater chance of learning disability labeling
- Low academic achievement and graduation rates
- Risk of school dropout
- Plateaued learning
- Frustration and discouragement
To look at this trend, Sanchez’s study includes local education agencies “with a student population larger than 30,000 students, LEAs with fewer than 30,000 students, and LEAs with fewer than 1,500 students. Additionally, the sample includes LEAs that serve urban, suburban, and rural communities.”
The role of Local-Control Accountability Plans
State and local education agencies are responsible for determining what constitutes student achievement. Unfortunately, while local agencies are better equipped to make plans that serve their individual populations, they are nevertheless susceptible to a tendency toward underrepresenting minority groups in any educational benchmark.
Enter the LCAP, the local-control accountability plan, which is designed to ensure that as many students as possible achieve positive educational outcomes. As another California school district explains, “The LCAP is a tool for educational agencies to set goals, plan actions, and leverage resources to meet those goals to improve student outcomes.” Positive student outcomes are only possible, however, when the LEA selects the right bases on which to predicate its interventions and assessments.
Sanchez paves a potential way forward, reporting that “Data trend patterns indicated that LEAs who utilized interventions aligned to the threshold, transference, and academic literacy theories produced less LTEL students than those LEAs that did not.” LEAs that depended on specific theories of literacy more successfully reduced the numbers of LTELs than those that had a different approach.
Key findings and future opportunities
Sanchez’s research indicates that, as of this time, LEAs are failing students — or at least a significant proportion of them are. However, there are some hopeful results:
- LEAs that applied interventions aligned with the threshold, transference, and academic literacy theories outperformed LEAs that only applied the state-required ELD standards and curriculum.
- LEAs that strategically targeted certain grade levels to apply interventions outperformed LEAs that applied the interventions to all students, grades K–12.
- LEAs with fewer than 1,500 students were more efficient in producing more English-proficient LTEL students than the larger LEAs.
Perhaps one of the most salient findings, however, was that the oft-cited five years given for an English language learner to become proficient is not enough. Many districts assume that once they’ve passed that point, a student has a much-reduced chance of success if they have not yet achieved mastery. But the answer may be that students need more time to become proficient in a second language. Knowing this may give districts more opportunities to develop stronger English speakers, especially if they adopt the notably effective threshold, transference, and academic literacy theories.