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Legislature Passes DiDomenico's Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

November 15, 2017

BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Legislature passed bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), which updates the existing statute relative to English language education in the Commonwealth’s public schools. An Act relative to language opportunity for our kids, also known as the LOOK bill, promotes research-based best practices for programs serving English learners (EL).

Since the year 2000, the number of EL students in Massachusetts has doubled to more than 90,204 students, or 9.5 percent of the student population. While statewide graduation rates for students have risen over the past ten years, the achievement gap between EL students and their peers persists.

“While the current English language instruction model has proven to be beneficial for some of our Commonwealth’s English learners, countless other EL students have found themselves falling behind in this restrictive academic environment,” said Senator DiDomenico, the Senate sponsor of the bill. “This legislation changes that by rethinking the way we approach educating our English learners and giving our schools greater flexibility to select the programs that fit the diverse and unique needs of their students. I am confident this bill takes crucial strides towards guaranteeing that every student receives a fair opportunity at educational success, and I would like to thank my fellow conference committee members and the many advocates who helped to bring this legislation to fruition.”

 “Allowing parents and local school districts the flexibility to choose the most effective programs to cater to the specific needs of their students is not only good public policy but also what is best for our students to be successful,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).  “We live in a global community and we must be able to adapt to the changing needs of our communities in a thoughtful and constructive way.  This bill achieves that goal.”

“Every student has unique needs, and it is our obligation to foster an environment where they are afforded an education tailored to them,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Massachusetts’ education system is the best in the nation, and I believe that this legislation will enhance our standing while ensuring that education is indeed, the great equalizer.”

“The accord reached today by the conference committee is a huge step forward for English language instruction in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), co-chair of the LOOK bill conference committee and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “It will empower parents and educators to make the most effective educational decisions, based on each student's individual needs. And it includes safeguards to ensure English learners don’t fall between the cracks or languish in ineffective programs. Thank you to Rep. Sánchez and Sen. DiDomenico for introducing this critical legislation, and to all the advocates who’ve pushed for it for so many years. Thanks also go to my conference committee co-chair, Rep. Peisch, and all the members of our conference committee for their dedication to fixing our state's failed one-size-fits-all model with an effective, bi-partisan solution.”

“I would like to thank the primary sponsors of the legislation, Chairman Sánchez and Senator DiDomenico, for insisting that we address the needs of the growing English language learner population in the Commonwealth and my fellow conferees for their hard work on reconciling the two versions of the legislation,” said Representative Alice Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education (D-Wellesley). “The legislation permits districts to choose English Learner programs that best fit the needs of their students, while ensuring those programs will be of the highest quality.  This combination of flexibility and high-standards will allow all students to achieve a level of English proficiency so that they can access the academic success for which Massachusetts students are known.”

“Language should never be a barrier to a student’s academic success,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill empowers parents and schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for our English Language Learner students. It also encourages biliteracy, recognizing that knowledge of other languages and cultures is a true asset in our global economy.”

“The state’s one-size-fits-all approach has failed our English language learners,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “Through flexibility and accountability, the LOOK bill creates a system where students are able to learn English and succeed academically throughout the Commonwealth.”

“I’m pleased that at the conclusion of this conference committee we’ve arrived at a bill that we believe will better serve the English language learners across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Frank Moran (D-Lawrence). “This bill works to rectify a situation that has seen our public schools fall short in educating these particular students. I want to thank my colleagues on this committee for their hard work to find a solution for these students.”

“The Commonwealth has a responsibility to each and every one of its students to give them the resources to succeed,” said Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth), a member of the conference committee who also sits on the Joint Committee on Education. “This bill gives English Learners more opportunities to simultaneously become proficient in their studies as well as in the English language. These opportunities are reinforced by affording local school districts the flexibility to implement programs that they believe work best for in their community, by giving parents a choice in what course they believe is best for their child, and by giving the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the tools they need to efficiently implement and monitor English Language curriculum. I am confident that we will now be able to effectively serve our entire student population for the future success of the Commonwealth.”

“This is a much needed piece of legislation which will provide our English learners, their families and our schools with options, not a one size fits all approach,” said Representative Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden).  “We often speak of the need for flexibility and local control, and this bill provides that all while keeping much of the framework set forth in Chapter 71A in place.”

This bill expands on the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the default English learner program model by giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the diverse needs of their students. Under this legislation, school districts can maintain current SEI programming or choose to implement an alternative instructional program that meets federal and state standards.

This bill supports parental choice and involvement by expanding the role of Parental Advisory Councils and allowing parents the flexibility to choose programs that best meet their child’s needs.

To better identify and assist English learners, this legislation requires greater tracking of academic performance and enhanced review of programs.  Furthermore, this legislation directs the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop additional guidelines and supports for school districts.

Recognizing bilingualism and biliteracy as valuable strengths for students in a 21st century world, this legislation establishes a state Seal of Biliteracy. The seal will be awarded by participating school districts to students who have attained a high level of proficiency in English, and one or more foreign languages.

This bill will now move to the Governor for his signature.  

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