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State Representative Carlos Mariani

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Posted: Mar 21 2014 11:47AM
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Major Education Policy Bill Clears Crucial Deadline


ST. PAUL, MN – A major education policy bill benefitting the state’s English language learners cleared a crucial deadline at the Minnesota Legislature today.  

House File 3062, the Learning for Academic Proficiency and Success Act or ‘LEAPS Act,’ passed out of the House Education Policy Committee on a voice vote. The bill met the first deadline of the 2014 Session for committees to act favorably on bills in their chamber of origin.

“English language learners are an uptapped economic asset,” said State Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL – St. Paul), the bill’s chief author and Chair of the House Education Policy Committee. “This legislation is about making sure we help those students reach their full potential. Minnesota stands to benefit from growing our pool of multilingual workers. I think it’s essential if we want to compete in a global economy.”

Mariani crafted the bill with significant input from local and national experts. He also held a joint hearing on the status of Minnesota’s English language learners with Senate Education Committee chair Patricia Torres Ray during the interim – the first joint hearing by two Latino lawmakers in state history.

Mariani’s LEAPS Act aims to boost academic achievement and career and college readiness among Minnesota’s English language learners, who include people of all ages, nationalities and academic proficiencies. The St. Paul lawmaker says non-native students face unique challenges to achieving success in the classroom.

“They’re the fastest growing population of students in our schools, yet nearly half do not graduate high school,” said Mariani. “We can’t afford to let Minnesota’s English language learners fall behind. These students bring unique skills to the table.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the number of English language learners increased by 50,000 over the past 20 years, an increase of 300 percent. Over 65,000 students are currently enrolled in Minnesota schools.

In 2013, about 59 percent of English language learners graduated from high school, with 23 percent meeting MCA proficiency measures in math, 17 percent in reading and just 12 percent in science. Statewide averages on those measures in 2013 came out to 61 percent, 58 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

Mariani identified a number of reasons for poor academic outcomes among English language learners. He said a lack of teacher preparation and training, accountability for schools, and clear and consistent guidelines from the state when it comes to English language learner instruction are to blame.

“Some districts such as St. Paul Public Schools are doing an outstanding job and leading the way on this issue,” said Mariani. “Others need some guidance and tools.”

The LEAPS Act takes the following steps to boost achievement and academic outcomes for Minnesota’s English language learners:

Support Minnesota’s earliest English language learners and prioritize parental involvement.

  • Requires Head Start literacy program providers to: use a culturally relevant integrated approach to early literacy; and provide oral and written information to parents of English learners to enable them to monitor the program’s impact on their children, know whether their children are progressing in developing their English proficiency and, where practicable their native language proficiency, and engage with their children in developing that language proficiency.
     
  • Encourages local school boards to adopt and implement a parent and family involvement policy that promotes and supports oral and written communication in families’ native language and welcomes parents in the school using networks that support families’ cultural connections.

Prepare educators to effectively teach English language learners in the classroom.

  • Requires teacher preparation programs to provide instruction in implementing research-based practices designed specifically for English learners.
     
  • Requires all teacher candidates to be prepared in English language development and content instruction for English learners in order to be able to effectively instruct English learners in their classroom.
     
  • Directs the board of teaching to recognize the importance of cultural and linguistic competencies, including the ability to teach and communicate in culturally competent and aware ways.
     
  • Requires school administrator preparation programs to include instruction on meeting the varied needs of English learners, from young children to adults, in English and, where practicable, in students’ native language.

Implement systemic changes and enhance institutional focus on English language learner success.

  • Requires a school district’s long-term strategic plan to include strategies for improving instruction, curriculum, and student achievement, including the English and, where practicable, the native language development and the academic achievement of English learners.
     
  • Directs the district advisory committee to: provide translation to the extent appropriate and practicable; and pursue community support to accelerate the academic and native literacy and achievement of English learners with varied needs, from young children to adults.
     
  • Allows a school to establish a site team to develop and implement practices and strategies to improve cultural competencies, including cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication at the school.
     
  • Directs a school board to hold an annual public meeting to review and revise strategies and practices for improving curriculum and instruction and cultural competency.
     
  • Directs school districts to periodically survey affected constituencies in their native language where appropriate.
     
  • Directs the education commissioner to identify those school districts in any consecutive three-year period not making sufficient progress toward improving teaching and learning for all students, including English learners with varied needs.

Improve support for Minnesota’s adult English language learners.

  • Requires an adult basic education program to offer English language instruction.
     
  • Requires an adult basic education program to include measures of student progress toward work-based competency and, where appropriate, English language proficiency requirements established by the commissioner and posted on the department website in a readily accessible location and format.
     
  • Requires the education commissioner to approve an adult basic education program based on how English language proficiency will be met.
     
  • Requires the education commissioner to approve an adult basic education program for up to five years that demonstrates capacity to: offer learning opportunities and support the service choices of adults at all basic skill and English language levels of need; and address the needs adults have for English language learning support services.

With the LEAPS Act clearing the first committee deadline of the 2014 Session, the bill will now be added to the general register for consideration by the entire House of Representatives. Companion legislation in the Senate continues to move forward as well.

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