New ETW Report Identifies Top-Performing Districts Serving California’s English Learners, Uncovers Promising Practices for Student Success


Report Recommends District and State Leaders Seize Opportunities with Local Control Funding Formula and Common Core to Improve Outcomes for English Learners

OAKLAND, CA (September 23, 2014) – California, a state rich in cultural and linguistic diversity, serves 1.4 million English learners—more than any other state in the country and accounting for almost one-third of English learners in the entire U.S. Too often, these students face insufficient academic supports, ill-prepared teachers, and less rigorous coursework, causing them to struggle academically. However, a new analysis finds it does not have to be this way. The Education Trust–West identifies a number of districts across California that are breaking this pattern. The results are published in a new report released today titled, The Language of Reform: English Learners in California’s Shifting Education Landscape.

“The good news is there are districts across California that are serving English learners well,” said Valerie Cuevas, Interim Executive Director of The Education Trust–West, a statewide education policy, research and advocacy organization that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color and students in poverty. “Given that 1 out of 4 students in California is an English learner, it is critical that we uncover and share the practices and strategies these districts are using to get results.”

The report includes an analysis of data from 276 unified school districts based on their performance on four indicators, including the California Standards Test (CST), English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency rates, California English Language Development Test (CELDT) advancement rates, long-term English learner rates, and reclassification rates. The Education Trust–West identified districts rising to the top on each metric, as well as 11 districts that performed well on 3 of the 4 indicators. “Districts like Selma Unified, Calipatria Unified, Los Alamitos Unified, and West Covina Unified posted English learner results that are better than other districts with similar student populations,” said Carrie Hahnel, Director of Research and Policy Analysis at The Education Trust–West.

“We find that there is no magic bullet for success,” said Dr. Jeannette LaFors, Director of Equity Initiatives at The Education Trust–West. “While each district has a different set of policies and practices, top-performing districts have a few things in common. They believe their students’ native languages are cultural and linguistic assets. They provide teachers with the professional development they need to support English learners. They give English learners access to Common-Core aligned curriculum and college preparatory courses. They also engage parents and create strong home-school connections.”

By taking a comprehensive approach to the issue, the report also includes:

  • detailed background information on who California’s English learners are and how state and national policies have shaped programs, services, and funding for English learner students
  • case studies highlighting promising practices and strategies that have contributed to positive results for English learners in several of the top-performing districts
  • a summary spreadsheet showing how all 276 unified school districts performed
  • a review of Local Control and Accountability Plans to learn what programs and services top districts plan to provide to English learners.

With reforms like the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Common Core State Standards dramatically shifting California’s education landscape, the report concludes with several policy recommendations to ensure action is taken to capitalize on these reforms to better serve English learners.

“We expect the LCFF to lead to better outcomes for English learners,” said Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), “and simultaneously promote policies that will provide additional funding and strengthen accountability for reclassified pupils, thereby ensuring that California’s schools are able to effectively serve all of our English learner population.”

On October 22, The Education Trust—West will host a webinar featuring leaders from top-performing districts, who will share their effective practices and recommendations for ensuring English learners have access to the quality educational opportunities they deserve.

To read the full report, click here.

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About The Education Trust–West
The Education Trust–West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.