SAANYS Testifies at Assembly Hearing Regarding English Language Learners

ellOn December 5, James Viola was joined by SAANYS members Thomas Payton (principal of the Roanoke Ave. Elementary School in the Riverhead CSD and Richard Loeschner, (principal of the Brentwood HS in the Brentwood UFSD) to present testimony on the impact of the increasing numbers of student  coming to schools with a wide range of English speaking , reading and writing needs . The hearings were called by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly Education Committee. Their thoughtful and on point testimonies provided dramatic examples of the impact on schools of  ever increasing populations of students with limited English literacy and speaking skillsSome highlights from their testimony are as follow:

– James Viola in provided contextual remarks on the impact of increasing numbers of students with diverse language needs on school districts. Jim highlighted that this issues is one that impacts every part of the state . As he indicated in his opening remarks “The testimony that you are about to hear from Mr. Payton and Mr. Loeschner in regard to the budgetary and programmatic challenges presented by escalating numbers of unaccompanied minors, English language learners and students with interrupted formal education can be echoed by school districts such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, Yonkers, and others. Although it does not impact every school district, it is a statewide issue.”

– Rich Loeschner made statistics on the rapid growth of English Language Learners (ELL) and English as New Language (ENL) entrants in Long Island real when he spoke about how the ever growing numbers directly impact the Brentwood school district. In any given week, Rich can expect to have about “25 new students arrive with limited English Proficiency”. Further, a high percentage of those students are students between the ages of 15-21 years old. The impact on instructional programming is a complex issue, made even more difficult in light of the requirements for high school completion within a very restrictive timeframe.

– Tom Payton highlighted the unique nature of each ELL student needs and how “one size approaches- do not fit all” especially when students come with dual or multiple language acquisition challenges.  In Riverhead many of the new entrants emigrate from the mountainous regions of Central America where many indigenous languages are not written. Students entering his elementary school from those regions need intensive reading, writing, and literacy instruction, requiring additional staff and resources.

-Both Tom and Rich spoke about the need to provide greater flexibility to districts managing the social and academic needs of the incoming students with ELL. Their testimony underscored the need to rethink and revise issues of accountability-especially in terms of assessments and high school completion. 

The Assembly Hearing brought forth many other issues from a wide range of perspectives.  An issue reiterated several times was the impact of Part 154 of the Commissioner’s Regulations which established significant and new procedural and program requirements-without any additional fiscal support. An identified challenge across the state is the overwhelming costs of translations. The testimonies also identified the need for many increased translations of state assessments into a wider range of languages.

SAANYS has been and will continue to be very active on this issue. In conjunction with the Educational Conference Board (ECB), the following recommendations are made:

  1. Provide accountability relief to school districts who enroll new students, who then withdraw or stop attending within a short period of time.
  2. Increase the flexibility to adjust the cohort for both the SIFE and non-SIFE students.
  3. Eliminate the ENL/ ELA dual certification requirement at the secondary level.
  4. Allow districts to identify who can administer the Home Language Questionnaire (HLQ) and New York State Identification Test for English Language Learners (NYSITELL).
  5. Amend the Part 154-2.3(i) grade span requirement to provide for a three, rather than 2 year span for grouping student for instruction.
  6. Eliminate the “a year and a day” requirement to take the ELA assessment.

For further information regarding the Assembly Hearing or upcoming initiatives of the Government Relations Committee, please contact Cynthia Gallagher, director of government relations: