Background Information, Recommendations and Guidance for Public Comments on Proposed Changes to Part 154 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Regarding English Language Learners
In June 2014 the State Board of Regents approved for public comment, a series of recommendations for amending Part 154 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. Part 154 establishes standards for school districts to ensure that students with limited English proficiency (hereinafter referred to as "English Language Learners"(ELLs)) are provided opportunities to achieve the same educational goals and standards that have been established by the Board of Regents for all students. Following the public comment period, the Board of Regents will be asked to adopt regulations based on comments from the field at its September 2014 meeting. The proposed amendments would be required to be implemented beginning with the 2015-2016 school year. Until then, school districts must continue to implement the existing provisions of Part 154 or, should the Board adopt the proposed regulatory amendments, school districts may begin implementing the new provisions.
The proposed changes to Part 154 have the potential to strengthen instruction and services for English Language Learners (ELLs) thereby ensuring that ELLs are provided access to all programs that are made available to non-ELL students. The recently released statistics for ELL graduation rates emphasize the importance to strengthen programs and services for these students and we urge your participation in the public comment period. The importance of the practitioner's voice in shaping these critical regulations cannot be understated.
The Proposed Amendments to Part 154 of Commissioner's Regulations are available online at: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/June2014/614p12d2.pdf
The following points are provided to assist local leaders and members in shaping their comments on the proposed changes. We urge you to personalize these points based on your practitioner experiences.
Recommendations and Guidance
We recommend that:
Early Childhood Services
Part 154 does not presently require school districts to make available programs and services to eligible ELLs enrolled in early childhood programs including Universal PreK.
NYSUT Recommendation: The regulations should include procedures for identifying and providing language support services (bilingual and ESL instruction) to support the language needs of students enrolled in Universal PreK classes who come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. The lack of language supports at this early age only serves to widen the achievement gap for these young learners.
Maximum Class Size Limit/Effective Educator to Student Ratio
Part 154 currently does not require school districts to establish class sizes comprised solely of ELLs.
NYSUT Recommendation: Part 154 should include a maximum class size limit or an effective educator to student ratio based on language proficiency level- 15 for beginning classes and 20 for intermediate and advanced classes, in elementary and secondary schools. Part 154 makes no provisions for providing teaching assistants and school-related professionals in bilingual and ESL classrooms. We also recommend that the regulations require that at least one teaching assistant or other school-related professional be designated for every 100 English language learners (ELLs) within a building containing a free-standing ESL program.
Creation of Language Proficiency Teams (LPT) to Review the Special Education Status of ELLs
Districts would be expected to refer English Language Learners who are students with disabilities to the Language Proficiency Team (LPT) during the 2015-2016 school year, or to the Committee on Special Education (CSE) during the 2016-2017 school year and thereafter, to make determinations whether ELLs should be exited from ESL instruction.
NYSUT Recommendation: Starting with the 2015-16 school year a single process should be used to determine initial and continued eligibility of ELL status for ELL students with a disability. Beginning in the 2015-2016 school year and thereafter, this decision should be made by the district's Committee on Special Education (CSE) which is a multi-disciplinary team. The proposed regulations would require that the CSE include at least one bilingual or ESL teacher who is knowledgeable about the student's English language development. It is critically important that the clinicians on the CSE have clinical knowledge of the relationship between language acquisition and learning disability. We are strongly opposed to the creation of LPTs as the multi-disciplinary body that makes these determinations given the federal and state responsibilities currently imposed on this IEP Team. Requiring additional individuals with expertise in ELLs will strengthen the collective knowledge of the CSE when making these important decisions about these students. Furthermore, we do not support the proposed role of the principal to be able to override the decision of practitioners participating as a multi-disciplinary team to make this determination.
15 percent of the 175 hours professional development hours required for all teachers and administrators will be expected to be specific to the needs of ELLs, language acquisition and cultural competency. In the same vein, 50 percent of the 175 hours professional development hours for all Bilingual Education and ESL teachers will be expected to be specific to the needs of ELLs, language acquisition and cultural competency.
NYSUT Recommendation: The proposed professional development requirements are too prescriptive. Inclusion of specific percentages of ELL instructional professional development for all teachers and also for ESL and bilingual teachers does not allow for schools to customize the professional development according to their school wide goals. Professional development is most effective if it is based on the differentiated needs of staff and provided in settings that include teachers from multiple disciplines versus in a splintered manner that is currently the case in some school districts.
Creation of a Separate Certification/Tenure Track for Bilingual Teaching Assistants
The State Education Department's proposal also calls for creating separate certification areas for bilingual teaching assistants, and tenure and seniority protection areas for bilingual teaching assistants, bilingual teachers and ESL teachers. These proposals will require statutory changes to Education Law and subsequent regulatory amendments to Part 80 of the Regulations.
NYSUT Recommendation: While the proposed changes call for creating a separate certification for bilingual teaching assistants and tenure and seniority protection areas, we request that the proposed rules include accommodations in order to respect these local agreements.
The proposed amendments to the regulations have the potential to provide a more coherent and consistent set of requirements for the instruction of ELLs. However, without sufficient funds to support the implementation of these significant changes and close monitoring of school district compliance with its SED approved district plan, we remain concerned that our ELLs will not be able to benefit fully from the intent of the regulations. The recently released graduation rates reinforce the urgency for making these recommendations. The performance of English language learners clearly demonstrates that New York State has to go further in its efforts to close the achieve gap.