How have changes in the law affected classroom practice in relation to ELLs?
The dominant legal change in recent years is NCLB. NCLB has a number of provisions intended to improve success rates for EL’s. Unfortunately, NCLB’s other requirements end up applying at least as much pressure on ELL’s as it offers help. The biggest problem is that setting high, uniform standards is particularly challenging for students facing the twin pressures of learning achievement and language gaps. The standards themselves are challenging enough for English speakers, but when applied identically to students who are also challenged by language comprehension and fluency issues, these standards can become almost unachievable. Compounding this particular problem is the NCLB requirement that achievement of these standards be tracked across various social and demographics groups of interest, including ELL’s. This creates considerable pressure on the schools and therefore on the students to make Herculean progress under difficult conditions.
Two of additional challenges are worth mentioning. The first challenge is the California law (upheld against legal challenges) requiring that all standards tests be administered in English. So, not only do the ELL’s have the challenge of learning in L2, they have the challenge of being test on that learning in L2. Second, we are in a world of ferocious budget cuts. At a time when the ELL population is growing far faster than the general population and the pressure (as above) to improve results in this ELL subset is growing exponentially, cash available is dropping precipitously. There is some cushion in that many ELL’s are in Title I schools, but even there, and more so across the board, schools and teachers are being asked (demanded) to do much more with much less.
To conclude, the legislative focus on ELL’s is theoretically positive but the practical aspects of the current legal climate are challenging for ELL’s nonetheless.