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ESSA accountability and assessment policies and practices for English language learners
On December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), legislation to extend and revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was reauthorized. Almost two years later, the Illinois ESSA plan was approved on August 31, 2017. This new reauthorization made extensive amendments, including its state accountability and testing policy requirements, which have significant implications on English language learners (ELLs). This study aims to explore the critical policy actors' interpretation of policy requirements and implementation by examining their exercises of power, values, and the use of policy instruments during their decision-making process. Taking Illinois as a case, interpretive policy analysis and general qualitative analysis were utilized to analyze official documents and related texts, newspaper articles, and interview data.
The findings reveal that operating with different values, policy actors’ exercise of various power entangles the policy implementation processes and significantly affect ELL education. Results also suggest that the assessment flexibility provided by federal policy can be deceptive given its stringent requirements and the state's limited capacity. Therefore, the new innovative assessment demonstration authority in the ESSA is not necessarily facilitating the assessment innovation, promoting the educational equity by highlighting and closing achievement gaps between ELL and non-ELLs. Furthermore, it is found that state and Chicago public schools have competing accountability and assessment systems and values. More importantly, local power and politics have more control over the policy implementation and enactment at local level, which always have effects or consequences on educating ELLs that are unanticipated. This study has also shown that economic value plays a critical role in policy implementation at state and local level. The implications on ELL education include prioritizing the development and implementation of an effective ELL/Bilingual curriculum and minimizing the influences of local control and assessment time by excluding ELLs from various high-stakes assessments.