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For immediate release
February 20, 2004

State Board Approves New English Language Standards

(SPRINGFIELD) – Illinois has new English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards designed to provide consistency in how students who are new to the U.S. as well as the English language are taught.

The Illinois State Board of Education Wednesday approved English Language Proficiency Standards, which may be a model for the rest of the nation.

This is the first time that Illinois has adopted statewide standards for the English language learner. Limited English language students currently number 5.5 million nationwide and represent the fastest growing population in U.S. and Illinois.

The standards go beyond what is required under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requirements, and will help drive the creation of a new test that will be used to assess the ESL population. The cost to assess this population of students will be shifted to the state level, and frees up school districts from developing their own teaching standards.

“The standards improve and consolidate what has been done independently by local districts,” said State Superintendent of Education Robert Schiller. “This frees up their resources, so now they can focus on what’s really important – the instruction of these students.”

The adoption came a day before the United State Department of Education announced greater flexibility for states assessing this student population as required under NCLB. On Thursday U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced guidelines that give states more time to work with new incoming students while allowing a longer time frame to count students who have started moving out of LEP programs. Illinois previously addressed the issue raised by Paige in its accountability plan last year.

“We understand the difficulty that our districts have in assessing this growing and fluid population,” said Schiller. He added that because of the constant immigration of LEP students and the exit of more proficient students, Illinois districts have been challenged in properly accounting for this population and making AYP. “We welcome this news because it recognizes the assessment limitations of special student populations.”

ISBE last joined the Wisconsin based Wisconsin, Delaware and Arkansas consortium (WIDA), from which the standards were born. WIDA consists of nine states – Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, all of which are currently in the process of adopting these common ELP standards.

“We are confident that these standards are the best in the country.” said Tim Boals, WIDA Project director with the Wisconsin Department of Instruction.

Schiller added: “In addition to recommended modifications, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback. At the national level, the standards, have received praise from the Department of the Education as surpassing what is being done elsewhere.

“What is exciting about this for Illinois and the other consortium members is that we are pooling resources and talent to develop standards and assessments that meet NCLB requirements and more,” said Schiller. “This gives us a way to have a uniform method of measuring growth in English.”

As a member of the consortium, Illinois will benefit from work with test developers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics. The standards are also getting the attention of the national organization of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), for possible adoption as their own, according to WIDA.

The new standards will also drive development of a new test to measure English Language proficiency. The current Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE) test will continue to be enhanced as a measure of subject matter achievement for LEP students.

The ELP standards were developed under extensive review. Drafts of the standards were disseminated to more than 700 Illinois educators, including Chicago and downstate schools, and to experts in the field for input as well as to members of the consortium. It incorporates the best practices in language and minority education.

The new ELP standards will allow teachers statewide who are teaching the LEP students to refer to common material that needs to be covered at each grade level. The standards also provide direction on teaching language skills relevant to the specific subject matter. Under NCLB, English language proficiency standards will eventually have to be linked to the academic language used in the various subject areas. These are the first ELP standards that make those links for reading, math, writing, science and social science.

The next step will be dissemination of the standards to districts and schools. Plans also call for piloting a language proficiency test this spring with field testing in the fall. Testing could be fully operational by the spring of 2005.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777