Seeing Clearly: Five Lenses to Bring English Learner Data into Focus

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Press Release from New America, August 16, 2017:

Two new reports from New America’s Education Policy Program stress the need to improve data quality and literacy to better track the performance of English learners (ELs), the fastest-growing student group in K–12 public education.

Overall, the view of EL outcomes is often blurry or distorted, argues the report’s author Janie T. Carnock, due to a host of common misunderstandings and limitations to how most states collect, track, and report on the data.

“Many education leaders have only a fuzzy idea of what excellence for ELs looks like and how genuine successes would show up in the data,” says Carnock. “Worse yet, data can be used in ways that misleadingly present ELs as a group that never shows progress or success—which is not true.”

The first report, Seeing Clearly: Five Lenses to Bring English Learner Data into Focus, offers a framework to help address these issues and enable more accurate, meaningful data usage for ELs. When parsing EL data, stakeholders should bear in mind that:

1. The EL subgroup is not static.

2. Learning a language takes time—but not forever.

3. ELs at different stages progress at different rates.

4. English skills impact academic performance.

5. Poverty affects most ELs and, as a result, their educational outcomes.

Along with the framework, the paper concludes with policy recommendations for state leaders to consider to leverage data more effectively for ELs.

The second report, Pioneering Change: Leveraging Data to Reform English Learner Education in Oregon, illustrates how some of these data principles can be applied through concrete policy reforms, using Oregon as a case study. In 2013, Oregon leaders passed a law that focused exclusively on bringing visibility to English learners through data, House Bill 3499. Oregon provides a model for other state leaders across the country on how to create more accurate, transparent data systems for EL students.

Rethinking EL data issues is particularly timely in light of new flexibilities for setting EL outcomes, goals, and accountability metrics under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States are continuing to finalize ESSA plans in advance of the September 18 deadline and move forward with their implementation in the coming months.

More information and reports can be found here: