Monitoring Former ELLs: Introducing a Better Way

Whenever I’m speaking in front of an audience of ELL teachers and administrators, there is always a moment of comic relief when I ask the question: “How many of you are proud of the processes you’ve implemented to monitor your former ELL students?” I savor the semi-awkward looks exchanged between peers, and the eventual laughter that emerges from the absurdity of the question. Because here’s the thing: monitoring former ELLs is difficult, is rarely done well, and provokes the kind of nervous anxiety that only laughter can soothe.

As many know, federal law requires that school districts monitor ELL students for 2 years after they exit an LEP program. The law is vague about the definition of “monitoring,” but states have generally interpreted the mandate to mean that district ELL administrators must follow up with classroom teachers to ensure the recently-reclassified ELL students are succeeding in mainstream environments and, if not, to provide extra language support when students are struggling. Like many K-12 education policies, this one is well-intentioned: recently-exited ELLs often need extra support to master the complex academic content of upper grades and graduate on-time with their peers.

The challenge, always, is in the execution.

Let’s consider a typical EL Coordinator – I’ll call her Maria – who is satisfied that her ELD team successfully reclassified 100 ELL students last year. Since she is in California, these students are now called “RFEPs,” and have to be placed into a monitoring program. But the same would be true if Maria were in New York, Georgia, Texas, or any other state, even if the acronyms are different (FELL, FLEP, EL-F, M1, M2, etc). How many readers recognize the following pattern:

  • After spending a summer refining the survey rubrics that she wants to use to monitor her RFEP students, Maria prints out 5 copies of the rubrics for each RFEP – 500 in all – and pre-fills each one with pertinent student data from an excel database she manages. For good measure, she uses separate forms for 1st and 2nd year RFEP students, as well as those who are in Elementary, Middle and High – 6 form types in all. Around this time, Maria begins to wonder whether she needs psychotherapy.

  • Maria then distributes the 500 monitoring forms to the assistant principals at each of her 24 school sites, with a request to have each of them completed by the classroom teachers that are serving her RFEPs. APs and classroom teachers, not surprisingly, are slow to respond to Maria – if they respond at all. Maria takes to stalking her APs in the parking lot after school in order to demand completed forms and signatures.  

  • After 6 weeks, Maria is finally able to gather her Monitoring forms, only to find that 82 of them are still outstanding. She perseveres, reviews the surveys with her team, and discovers that 12 students may need intensive academic services. But with many forms still missing, and very little insights gleaned from the voluminous data that her team has collected, she worries that the process is missing a lot of kids. She begins preparations for the next Monitoring cycle by re-reading The Myth of Sisyphus, and hoping that this time the rock will stay at the top of the hill.

The Maria scenario is actually a positive one – she would be in the top 25% of effective EL coordinators for her efforts. Some programs have given up entirely, and who can blame them? The administrative burdens presented by the process are prohibitive, and even the best intentioned administrators sometimes throw up their hands. It takes too much time from busy educators, yields little useful instructional data, and fails to live up to the promise of the underlying policy.

But hey, that’s why we’re here. We’ve got a better solution. For the past year, we’ve been working with educators across the country to make monitoring straightforward, pain-free, and instructionally relevant. Imagine that you could create forms on the fly, manage them on your Ellevation platform, distribute them automatically to the appropriate teachers over email, monitor submissions and send gentle reminders to tardy teachers, and then – here’s the kicker – manage the data electronically so that you can monitor student trends, surface concerns, and promptly intervene when needed. You can even use the same system for progress monitoring throughout the year, for any kind of student.

Sound interesting? We think so. Look out for Nathan's product announcement in the next couple of weeks, and get ready for a streamlined monitoring process that produces more high school graduates, and fewer nervous laughs.

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