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January 31, 2024
Contact: Michelle Mittelstadt

Taking State Accountability Systems to the Next Level for English Learner Success

WASHINGTON, DC — States have been meeting their mandate under federal law to develop systems to hold K-12 schools accountable for the outcomes of all students, through the collection and use of data that illuminate the needs and gaps for historically underserved student groups, including English Learners (ELs). While these accountability systems are highlighting achievement gaps between ELs and their non-EL peers, they could be refined to generate a clearer picture of EL student outcomes.

A report out today from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy sketches a new vision for state accountability systems, drawing on quantitative and qualitative research to outline potential refinements as policymakers seek to improve current systems and make changes to future iterations of federal education law.

At the core of the findings in Refining State Accountability Systems for English Learner Success is the recognition that accountability must extend beyond test scores from content area assessments to develop a more nuanced understanding of EL students’ performance and growth, in turn permitting better targeting of resources and school improvement strategies.

State accountability systems center on student outcomes from English language arts (ELA) and math assessments, even as ELs face the unique challenge of mastering these subjects while acquiring English language proficiency. But the systems too often do not take into account the role that English language proficiency plays in ELs’ scores. And the variability in language services provided to ELs further complicates the interpretation of outcomes, as schools adopt diverse approaches, including bilingual and English-only models, with varying access to resources, including qualified teachers. As a result, the reports published annually by states do not permit understanding whether improved EL scores relate to the quality of ELA and math instruction or to the nature and quality of the language services they receive. And this lack of visibility in turn does not allow school administrators to focus on where improvements are most needed.

“For ELs, accountability has undoubtedly raised the profile of persistent achievement gaps, but the system has yet to be refined to ensure accurate and useful information for decision-making,” the new report states.

The report includes two research studies from a team of researchers from California State University Northridge, the University of California, San Diego and MPI. One is a quantitative assessment using state-level ELA, math and English language proficiency data from Hawaii and Ohio to examine potential refinements to the statistical models used in state accountability systems. The qualitative study draws on focus groups and interviews conducted across 18 states with education agency staff, community advocacy organizations and parents of EL students.

The research findings offer potential refinements to accountability systems that could generate more actionable data to drive local decision-making, including through the use of opportunity-to-learn indicators that would permit better gauging the true impact of schools on ELs’ academic development.

“When it comes to understanding how EL students perform in comparison to their non-EL peers, and how schools contribute to EL outcomes, too many questions remain unanswered under today’s federal accountability framework and state accountability systems,” the researchers write.

“Getting accountability right for the United States’ growing EL population will lead to improvement in accountability overall.”

The report is part of a series of research on innovative assessment approaches and alternative accountability models coordinated under the K12 Research for Equity Hub, a multi-year actionable research initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation and managed by EduDream.

Read the report here:

For more of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy’s work on English Learners and federal law, visit:


The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.


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