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California’s English Language Learner Programs Criticized

As the English Language Learner population continues to grow in the state, many are calling for an overhaul of the school system.

— There are an estimated 1.6 million English learners in California. But only 1 in 10 reached proficiency levels in English last year.

Children from multilingual homes are tested for English proficiency as they begin school, and if they score low, they are placed into English language classes. The problem is, there are no standards for how to best help this population.

"The demographics of the state have changed and are continuing to change," said Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education. "And if we want our students to be successful we have to be able to conceptualize not only students that are monolingual in a home language, but also perhaps bilingual, and that doesn't necessarily mean they have an English deficiency."

The U.S. Department of Education recently criticized California's English learning program, saying it violated students' civil rights by failing to provide an equal education to non-native speakers.

"There is no one definition of what an English learner is, and in some ways, language development, at least in the classification now, is getting confounded with school readiness and literacy," said Garcia Bedolla.

Los Angeles Unified Schools will be the first in the state to try to address the lack of standards. Next year, it will be overhauling its program.

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