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Reports from Policy Analysts

English Language Learners in Connecticut

Submitted On: Thursday, August 24, 2017

Analyst: Ferruci, Stephen

During the 2015 legislative session, H.B. No. 3865[1] was introduced in the Connecticut House of Representatives; this act would have, among other things, required school districts to provide bilingual education for students when there were six or more who qualified.  The bill was never brought to the floor for discussion. Despite that, there is a lot of attention being paid to the particular challenges that English Learners face, in part because of the new requirements under ESSA and through the use of the Smarter Balanced assessment tools. Expectations are that English Learners will improve their scores on standardized English tests by 3% each year, and that they will meet defined targets within 5 years[2]. According to a study conducted by, in 2016 only a third of students met that target[3]. In the state’s plan to meet new requirements under ESSA, the State Board of Education will monitor English Learner progress, and if districts or schools fail to meet benchmarks, the state will recommend changes. It’s unclear whether resources will be available to support schools and districts, and given the current and projected state budget woes, it’s unlikely.

The state’s plan to support English Learners under ESSA does not mandate a particular approach to teaching that population[4], despite evidence that dual-language programs (those where students are taught in both English and Spanish, for example) are successful. According to research[5] in Portland, Oregon, where one study was conducted, “English learners in dual-language programs were seven months ahead of peers in academic achievement, and by Grade 8 they were a full grade level ahead[6].” In Connecticut, statewide only around 2000 English learners are supported by dual-language programs out of approximately 37,000 English Learner students. And over the past 8 years, Connecticut has “experienced the 13th-fastest increase in the percentage of students who are English learners.[7],[8]

What is being done to address the problem, beyond mandating that the Department of Education monitor schools and the programs in place to support English learners? Connecticut faces a shortage in teachers in a number of areas, one of which is bilingual education. The Commissioner of the Department of Education has proposed a loosening of requirements for certification, including removing the requirement that a teacher be certified in both bilingual education and in a subject area. And in 2016, the Commissioner of the Department of Education approved the use of the Relay Graduate School of Education[9], a program that fast-tracks certification, but one that has received a lot of criticism, and one that has been rejected by Connecticut’s Board of Higher Education.

[9] see:

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