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Study of the Impact of English Learner Reclassification Policies

Contract Information

Current Status:

Study design is being refined.


September 2021 – May 2024



Contract Number:



The WIDA Consortium
Insight Policy Research
Dr. Joseph Cimpian of New York University


Districts' reclassification of English learners (ELs) as English proficient is a high-stakes decision with implications for academic equity in the U.S. Since former ELs are no longer entitled to language supports, exiting EL status too soon can leave these students linguistically unprepared for success in mainstream U.S. classrooms. However, maintaining EL status for too long can compromise students' opportunities to learn academic content among their peers. The decision is complicated by lack of universal agreement on a definition for English proficiency and wide variation in reclassification criteria within and across states. To reduce variability in EL entry and exit procedures within states, the 2015 reauthorization of Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA) required states to develop standardized procedures. The shift to statewide standardization in exit procedures and the use of common English language proficiency (ELP) assessments in many states provide a unique opportunity to study the impact of reclassification nationwide. Of particular interest is assessing how impacts for students vary across contexts, such as the level of proficiency states require to exit, whether states consider factors other than ELP assessment scores, instructional policies (such as dual language or English-only instruction), policies for monitoring and serving former ELs, and characteristics of the EL population enrolled.

  • Did standardized statewide procedures, introduced to Title III under ESSA, result in more consistent application of reclassification procedures across districts within states?
  • Does reclassification have an impact on the instructional opportunities and experiences of former EL students relative to students who remain ELs? How much do impacts vary across student subgroups and state and local policy contexts?
  • Does reclassification have an impact on academic achievement and attainment for former EL students relative to students who remain ELs? How much do impacts vary across student subgroups and state and local policy contexts?

This study will describe state and local reclassification policies and use a regression discontinuity design (RDD) to assess how these policies affect students' instructional experiences and outcomes. The descriptive analysis will be based on policy documents and survey data from state and local education agencies about their reclassification, course placement, and EL monitoring policies. The RDD analysis will rely on student-level educational data from state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). The RDD approach will compare students within each included district whose performance was just high enough to reclassify out of EL status with students in the district whose performance was just under the reclassification threshold.

The study aims to represent results for EL students nationwide by recruiting up to 30 states with the highest EL enrollment (these states include more than 90 percent of ELs in the U.S.). All districts within these states that meet the requirements of the RDD approach will be included in the study. A secondary sample of 1,800 districts will be surveyed in Fall 2022. The survey will provide more information about policies that may affect the reclassification or instruction experiences of current and former ELs.

The report for the study is expected in 2024 and will be announced on

Key findings will be available after study report is published.