the accountability provisions of NCLB, states must include the performance of ELL students in the determination of each school’s adequate yearly progress reporting.
The explosive growth in the number of ELL students is another factor in the changed landscape. According to the DoEd, ELL students are the fastest growing educational subgroup in the nation. While the overall school population has grown by less than 3 percent in the last 10 years, the number of LEP students has increased by more than 60 percent in that time (U.S. Department of Education, 2008a, p. 8).
The increased population of ELL students has had a profound influence on the expansion of ELL programs in some states and many localities, putting pressure on states to increase program resources. Between the 2002-2003 and 2007-2008 school years, the period in which data have been collected systematically on LEP students in grades K-12, the count of LEP students increased almost 25 percent, from 3,643,219 to 4,492,068.
In some states, the growth has been profound. For instance, North Carolina and Nevada reported their ELL population growth as 500 and 200 percent, respectively, over the past 10 years (Batlova et al., 2005, as cited in Short and Fitzsimmons, 2007). In California, in 2008, about one-fourth of all students and one-third of elementary school students were English language learners (EdSource, 2008, p.1). This growth has led to a significant increase of programs to support ELL students. The ELL population is quite heterogeneous, and this heterogeneity poses measurement challenges. For example, more than 400 different languages are reported to be spoken by these students, although nearly 80 percent of LEP students speak Spanish (U.S. Department of Education, 2008a, p. vii). Many students come from families that speak multiple primary languages. This heterogeneity poses challenges to the local school systems, generating requirements for special curricula and other instructional resources as well as tailored monitoring, tracking, and assessment. Teaching this heterogeneous student population requires highly qualified teachers with specialized training for teaching such learners, and therefore requires teacher professional development for this task.
The sizable ELL population is a particular challenge because students are at varying levels of ELP and may not be sufficiently proficient in English to demonstrate proficiency in academic content areas. Because they have the task of learning English and academic content simultaneously, it is not surprising that, as a group, they do not meet the proficient level in academic subjects: the academic gap between the group and the non-ELL population is considerable. State data show that the percentage of LEP students who score proficient on a state’s language arts and mathematics tests was lower than the state’s annual progress goals in nearly two-thirds of the 48 states for which the U.S. Government Accountability Office (2006a, p. 18) obtained data.
Although the NCLB legislation has made a significant contribution to raising awareness about the need to improve ELL students’ learning and academic performance, “it has also generated challenges for states to establish a valid accountability system for ELL students” (Wolf et al., 2008, p. 2). NCLB has placed a greater