A fifteen year old law governing how English Language learners are taught in Massachusetts schools was repealed last November. The former Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) law was controversial from its inception. Many ESL as well as regular classroom teachers expressed concerns over the restrictive English-only model didn’t serve all students well. In addition there were many reports and studies done that raised concerns that the needs of the students were not being met because the teachers were not adequately trained in how to support and educate the English language learners.
As a result of these reports and studies, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice notified Massachusetts education officials that teachers were inadequately trained in how to educate English learners and the SEI model and required the state to come up with a new solution to bridge this gap. In response the state created the RETELL program – Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners – which required teachers in core academic subjects to take a graduate-level course provided by the state in SEI instruction. The RETELL program has had mixed results across the state.
The new law called “Language Opportunity for Our Kids," Chapter 138 of the Acts of 2017, commonly referred to as the LOOK Act aims to provide school districts with more flexibility as to the language acquisition programs they choose to meet the needs of English learners, while maintaining accountability for timely and effective English language acquisition.
The new law has many important points but here are just a few key effects:
Increased Input from Parents and Guardians
Allows parents/guardians of English learners to select any language acquisition program offered by the district, provided that the program is appropriate for the age and grade level of the student.
Allows parents/guardians to request a transfer of the student to another language acquisition program available in the district, subject to approval by the superintendent.
State Seal of Biliteracy
Directs the Board to establish the State Seal of Biliteracy. Districts may award the seal to students who meet the state criteria in attaining a high level of proficiency in English and at least one other language.
Requires districts to verify prior to the beginning of each school year that each educator in an English learner program is properly endorsed for that program.
Language Acquisition Programming Flexibility and Oversight
Provides districts with flexibility in choosing a language acquisition program that best fits the needs of their English learner population, while ensuring accountability through Department oversight.
Requires districts that intend to offer a new sheltered English immersion or alternative instructional English learner program in the next academic year to submit the required information to the Department and the district's parent advisory council by January 1 of the current academic year; this means that new English learner programs may commence no earlier than the 2019-2020 school year.
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