These authors note that the obstacles for ELL students are particularly challenging, given that they include both educational and technical issues. These challenges include the following:
Historically low ELL performance and very slow improvement. State tests show that ELL students' academic performance is far below that of other students, oftentimes 20 to 30 percentage points lower, and usually shows little improvement across many years.
Measurement accuracy. Research shows that the language demands of tests negatively influence accurate measurement of ELL performance. For the ELL student, tests measure both achievement and language ability.
Instability of the ELL student subgroup. The goal of redesignating high-performing ELL students as language-proficient students causes high achievers among ELL students to exit the subgroup. The consequence is downward pressure on ELL test scores, worsened by the addition of new ELL students, who are typically low achievers.
Factors outside of a school's control. Research shows substantial nonschool effects on student learning even within ELL subgroups. Schools are therefore unable to control all the factors related to student achievement.
Given these constraints, it would seem that schools that are able to achieve the performance standards required by the NCLB in the established timeframe are going to be the exception rather than the rule, and at least some authorities suggest that the true purpose of the legislation is to create a situation where students, teachers, and schools alike are going to fail because the standards are impossible to achieve. For example, as Kesson and Ross (2004) suggest, "Current federal educational policy, embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act, sets impossible standards for a reason. Public access to institutions of learning helps promote the levels of critical civic activism witnessed during the 1960s and 1970s that challenged the power of the state and the corporations that it primarily serves" (p. xiv). These authors even go so far as to suggest that the same corporate forces that are driving the privatization of the nation's prison and jail system are at work in Congress: "The current reform environment creates conditions in which public schools can only fail, thus providing 'statistical evidence' for an alleged need to turn education over to private companies in the name of 'freedom of choice'" (Kesson & Ross, 2004, p. xiv). Indeed, these researchers maintain that the NCLB represent the tip of a conspiratorial iceberg with the privatization of the nation's public schools as its ultimate goal: "In combination with the growing corporate monopolization of the media, these reforms are part of a longer-range plan to consolidate private power's control over the total information system, thus eliminating avenues for the articulation of honest inquiry and dissent" (Kesson & Ross, 2004, p. xiv).
Other educational authorities have tended to agree with this overall assessment of the NCLB as well, if not on the level of a conspiracy, at least on the level of high-governmental meddling that has resulted in less-than-desirable coverage of the true impact of the NCLB on the nation's schools in general and ELL students in particular. For instance, as Mayers (2006) observed recently, "Despite the grim reality of the implementation of the No Child Left Behind act: the general public appears to be largely misinformed. This is due, in part, to what appear to be deliberate efforts on the part of the Bush administration" (p. 449). In this regard, Arce and her associates (2005) emphasize that, "The Bush family has taken a particular interest in education by directly and indirectly supporting the implementation of the NCLB legislation. This president, who is publicly propagandizing against public institutions (especially education and social security), sponsors legislation that directly profits his family, but punishes poor children and public school educators. NCLB is the pinnacle of investment schemes" (p. 56). According to Ascher (2006), the impetus behind this "NCLB as investment scheme" is nothing less than the co-opting of nation's schools by the powerful elitist-headed conglomerates that are running the country today:
The federal out-of-school tutoring program features free-market strategies promoted by the Bush Administration: parental choice, money following individual students, and the privatization of educational delivery. Created in response to low standardized-test scores, the requirement for supplemental educational services also reflects NCLB's lack of interest in the wider goals of public schools or students' school experiences. Just as NCLB has forced high-poverty schools to narrow their academic offerings to ensure that students make 'adequate yearly progress' in English and math, the two subjects currently tested, the supplemental services provision extends this narrowed educational agenda into students' out-of-school hours. (p. 136)
As noted above, even assuming that there is no hidden political or economic agenda behind the NCLB, the private sector continues to benefit from the mandates established by the NCLB at the expense of those who can least afford it, and the consequences of failure are profound and can have lifetime implications for those ELL students that are unable to achieve satisfactory performance in these subject areas. In response to these issues and disturbing trends, a number of educators have searched for superior alternatives to existing approaches to delivering educational services to ELL students, and a representative sampling of such studies is provided below.
Paradoxically, many already overworked teachers are increasingly being required to provide individualized instruction for dozens and dozens of students with incredibly diverse learning needs with "one-size-fits-all" curricula. For example, in their study, "Lesson Adaptations and Accommodations: Working with Native Speakers and English Language Learners in the Same Science Classroom," Rice, Pappamihiel and Lake (2004) report that, "One could easily find classroom strategies to use with ELLs as well as science strategies to use with native English speakers (NESs). Many are innovative and clever. However, in a search for strategies that are effective for both ELLs and NESs, it is difficult to find the right integration of theory and classroom. Yet, this is the challenge faced by thousands of science teachers each day" (p. 121).
Based on their empirical observations of how ELLs learn, these researchers emphasize that using traditional teaching methods that may work well in other settings, will not be appropriate for ELLs. According to Rice and her associates, "Simply applying 'good teaching' strategies indiscriminately without an understanding of why they work with individual children will not suffice" (p. 121). Although most school districts are providing inservice training opportunities that focus on effective strategies that teachers can use immediately in their classrooms when working with ELLs, in many cases these teachers meet with little success when using these strategies in their own classrooms. Some teachers may continue to use these strategies, or resort to what they know best, or as these authors note, some may simply give up trying: "Or worse, they simply give up on the strategy and/or the student when the strategy does not produce the desired results. Our job as classroom teachers and teacher educators is to move beyond this superficial Band-Aid notion. We know that these strategies constitute good science teaching; now we need to understand how to make them bring forth good science learning for all students" (Rice et al., 2004, p. 122).
In their study, "Considerations in Implementing Intervention Assistance Teams to Support English Language Learners," Ortiz and her colleagues (2006) report that, "English language learners have such limited English skills that they cannot benefit from general education instruction provided entirely in English without special language program support" (p. 53). Therefore, ELL students are usually provided with education in either bilingual classrooms (where they receive both native language [L1] and English as a second language [ESL, or L2] instruction), or they are enrolled in general education classrooms and provided with supplemental instruction by ESL teachers. According to the results of their study, these researchers found that, "Intervention assistance teams can help teachers design and implement interventions to improve the performance of ELLs who are experiencing academic or behavioral difficulties, providing the supports needed to resolve many such difficulties within the context of general education" (p. 42).
In those cases where such interventions are unsuccessful and ELLs are subsequently referred for placement in special education classrooms, the eligibility decisions that drive such placement will be substantiated by appropriate documentation that students did not make adequate progress despite general education problem solving and that students' problems cannot be explained by such factors as limited English proficiency or cultural differences (Ortiz et al., 2006). The authors caution, though, "To be successful, however, IATs must accurately interpret data about ELLs and design culturally and linguistically responsive interventions. This article presents considerations in implementing IATs for ELLs, including team membership, the knowledge base needed by team members, intervention design, and recordkeeping" (Ortiz et al., 2006, p. 53).
A study by Artiles, Rueda, Salazar and Higareda (2005) entitled,…