Administrative Letter: Updated Remote Learning English Learner Identification Procedures

Administrative Letter: #28         
Policy Code: IHBEA
TO: Public School Administrators
FROM: Pender Makin, Commissioner
DATE: August 5,2020
SUBJECT: Updated Remote Learning English Learner Identification Procedures

The Maine Department of Education has developed a revised process for the identification of students as English learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. This revised process will remain in effect during any period when there is an interruption in face-to-face school operations as a result of the pandemic. Federal law requires that all English learners be identified within thirty days of enrolling at the beginning of the school year, or within two weeks for students who enroll mid-year (Sections 1112[e][3] and 3113[b][2] of Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Please note that English learner identifications made in other states are not recognized in Maine, and all newly-enrolling students must undergo the identification process required by the Maine Department of Education.

Under the previous provisional identification process provided by the Department of Education in response to the challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students were screened for approximate level of English proficiency using a set of informal rubrics. Provisional English learner status did not require official English learner identification. However, under the new revised process, students must be officially identified as English learners in the student data system by inputting an EL Start Date. Any student who was identified using the provisional identification process previously in place must now be officially identified by adding an EL Start Date, which must be the date on which the informal screening occurred. It is essential that all students who are English learners have an EL Start Date by October 1, 2020, to ensure that accurate enrollment counts are used in the state funding formula.

In order to accommodate the varying needs of SAUs across the state, the new, revised identification procedure allows for SAUs to exercise discretion in determining which of the following screening methods is most appropriate for the specific circumstances of their communities at any given time.

Prior to administering an English language proficiency screener (whether face-to-face or remotely), schools must provide the Language Use Survey to the parent/guardian of each student to complete. The Language Use Survey may be mailed, emailed, or completed in-person, as appropriate. Note that some families may require translation and/or interpretation by a qualified professional in order to complete the Language Use Survey and/or the enrollment process as a whole, and these services must be provided by the SAU at no cost to the family.
All Language Use Surveys and English language proficiency screener score reports must be kept in students’ cumulative files.

Screening Method 1: Face-to-Face
If a SAU determines through consultation with various stakeholders (including school board, staff, and families) that face-to-face screening can be conducted safely, SAUs may opt to administer an English language proficiency screener per the usual identification policy. According to current CDC requirements for health and safety in schools, face masks/face shields, hand sanitation stations, frequent sanitizing of computers and other items and surfaces involved in screening, physical distancing, and use of COVID-19 symptom screening questions must be used.

If a parent/guardian or screener administrator is not comfortable with face-to-face screening due to concerns about virus transmission, it is advisable to offer remote screening as an alternative.

Screening Method 2: Remote
For students in grades K-12, screening may be conducted remotely (via phone or video call) using the WIDA Remote Screener. (For students in pre-K, please see the final section of this document.) Training for screener administrators can be found within the WIDA Secure Portal, and screening materials are available in WIDA Assessment Management System (AMS). If you do not yet have login credentials, please contact WIDA Client Services at help@wida.us  or 1-866-276-7735.

Students who perform at the “developing” level or below will be officially identified as English learners in the student data system and must receive English language acquisition support services. Students identified as English learners must also participate in Maine’s annual English language proficiency assessment ACCESS for ELLs/Alternate ACCESS (when state-required assessment resumes as normal).

If a student performs at the “entering” or “emerging” level on the WIDA Remote Screener, no further validation of English learner status is required. However, when a student scores at the “developing” level, the student’s status must later be validated once face-to-face assessment is possible. There are two possible means of validation.

Validation Method 1: Face-to-Face Screening per Usual State Policy
When face-to-face screening can be safely conducted, a student must complete the regular screening assessment required by state policy. If the student performs below the identification threshold of 4.5, the student will remain in English learner status and no further steps are necessary. If the student performs above the identification threshold of 4.5, the SAU must submit a request for change in English learner identification to the Department. One request may be submitted for multiple students.

If requests for change in English learner identification are not received prior to the start of the ACCESS for ELLs/Alternate ACCESS assessment window (January 11, 2021), all identified English learners must participate in the ACCESS for ELLs/Alternate ACCESS, which will also serve as validation of the student’s English learner status.

Validation Method 2: ACCESS for ELLs/Alternate ACCESS
ACCESS for ELLs/Alternate ACCESS assessment window is scheduled to open January 11th and closes March 5th, 2021. If it is not possible to administer a face-to-face screening assessment prior the start of the assessment window, students’ English learner status will be validated via ACCESS for ELLs/Alternate ACCESS.

Assessment results will be available to SAUs in early May of 2021, so any student in English learner status must continue to receive English language acquisition support services until student performance reports are received and proficiency is confirmed. Students who receive an overall composite proficiency level of 4.5 or higher (or level P2 on Alternate ACCESS) will be automatically exited from English learner status by the Department.

In the event that state-required assessments are suspended for the 2020-21 school year, students will remain in English learner status until such time as either validation method can be utilized.

For assessment-related questions, please contact Jodi Bossio-Smith, WIDA Assessments Coordinator, at jodi.bossiosmith@maine.gov.

Identification of Students in Pre-Kindergarten
For students in pre-K, administering a remote screening assessment is not advised. Instead, as recent guidance from the US Department of Education permits, the Language Use Survey will be used to determine a student’s English learner status. If the Language Use Survey reflects a primary/home language other than English, the student will be temporarily identified as an English learner until validation is possible through an English language proficiency assessment (see validation methods 1 and 2 above). Educators must collaborate with parents/guardians in order to determine the type, frequency, and amount of English language acquisition support a student in pre-K will receive.

Re-entry of Former English Learners into English Learner Status
Students who have previously exited English learner status may experience a change in English proficiency level at any time. It is essential to monitor the performance of such students in order to ensure that any student who needs English language acquisition support services receives them.

Federal guidance recommends two years of intensive monitoring, but monitoring should continue throughout the rest of the student’s academic career. The federal guidance also includes recommendations on what the monitoring process should entail.

Given the unique and challenging learning conditions of the 2019-20 school year due to the pandemic, this fall it will be especially critical to monitor students’ performance and re-evaluate them for English learner status when appropriate, using the Maine Department of Education’s re-identification policy. It is recommended to allow a period of four to six weeks for students to re-acclimate to an English-speaking school environment before re-evaluating for English learner status.

If you have any questions about this notice, please contact April Perkins, Director of ESOL/Bilingual Programs & Title III, at april.perkins@maine.gov.