BOSTON – This week, Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed An Act for language opportunity for our kids (S.2125), also known as the LOOK Bill. This bill updates the existing statute relative to English language education in public schools by encompassing best practices serving English Language Learners (ELLs), and recognizing the value of bilingualism as a skill essential to being a productive global citizen.
“This is an important bill to ensure that all our students are successful in learning English, and also that more students have the opportunity to be fluent in at least two languages,” said Senator Jehlen. “I am grateful to Senator DiDomenico for his work on this legislation and his commitment to making sure kids across our Commonwealth receive the best education possible.”
For some children, placement into an English-only program too soon has proven to stunt academic growth and have major implications on future educational success. This has become a growing problem as the number of ELL students in Massachusetts continues to rise. Since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has doubled to over 90,204 students, or 9.5% of the student population. Last year, 90% of school districts had at least one ELL student and 19% of districts had 100 or more ELLs.
While overall graduation rates for students have risen in the past 10 years, the achievement gap between ELL students and their peers has not significantly changed. In 2016, the dropout rate for ELL students was 6.6 percent, the highest rate of any subgroup of students and three times higher than the rate for all students. Additionally, only 64% of ELL students graduated from high school, as compared to 87% of all Massachusetts students.
In an effort to reverse these trends, the LOOK bill removes the current mandate requiring Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the one-size-fits-all default ELL program model in order to better accommodate the diverse needs of the Commonwealth’s students. Under the bill, school districts may choose from any comprehensive, research-based instructional program that includes subject matter content and an English language acquisition component.
The bill also encourages a higher level of parental choice and involvement in advocating for, participating in, and selecting English learner programs and requires further tracking of ELL students’ progress to better identify and assist English learners who do not meet benchmarks.
This legislation also seeks to recognize the value of bilingualism and biliteracy as a skill essential to academic achievement and competitiveness in today’s global economy by permitting school districts to adopt the state seal of biliteracy, recognizing high school graduates who have met academic benchmarks, as determined by DESE, in one or more languages in addition to English.
The bill will now move to a conference committee, where negotiators will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation.