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Dual Language Learner Data Gaps: Takeaways for State Policy Leaders

This is the fifth and final post in New America’s blog series, DLL Data Gaps, and summarizes key findings and recommendations for state policy leaders. Click here to learn more about this project and access the other blogs in the series.

Across a variety of domains, states need better data to more equitably serve dual language learners (DLLs) in early care and education (ECE). When leaders cannot access high-quality, complete information about these children, they will struggle to make policy decisions and investments in ECE in strategic, effective ways.

To foster better insights in supporting policy-making for young DLLs, most states need to improve their policies for data collection in three key areas:

1. DLL Enrollment

Within state-funded pre-K programs, many states do not have a mechanism to identify and track the participation of DLLs, or the number of children speaking a language other than English at home. At the point of enrollment, states would also benefit from gauging the abilities of potential DLLs across the languages they use to better understand these children’s needs and assets.

States should:

  • Adopt a uniform protocol, such as conducting a family interview and language screening, to identify DLLs and collect this data across state ECE programs.
  • When identifying DLLs, screen for language abilities in both English and a child’s home language to collect more complete data.

2. ECE program quality for DLLs

In recent years, many states have implemented quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) that help shine a light on the quality of a state’s ECE services for all children. However, most states are failing to include any criteria that specifically evaluate how providers are responsive to DLLs’ unique needs. Moreover, there are concerns related to barriers to participation in QRIS for immigrant and multilingual providers serving DLLs. The accessibility and clarity of public QRIS data for DLL families is also lacking.

States should:

  • Adopt and prioritize DLL-related indicators in QRIS.
  • Provide technical assistance and outreach to linguistically diverse providers to encourage their participation in QRIS.
  • Translate state websites that publish QRIS ratings to increase accessibility for DLL parents.
  • Publicly report a DLL subscore that bundles all DLL-related indicators into one rating.

3. DLLs’ kindergarten readiness. 

The majority of states are now using or developing tools to assess children’s school readiness when they enter kindergarten. These kindergarten readiness assessments (KRAs) measure a child’s knowledge and abilities across multiple domains, including math, literacy, social skills, and physical development. However, most states currently test only in English, which creates major validity concerns for DLLs whose development is spread across two or more languages. More generally, leaders also need to clarify appropriate testing accommodations for DLLs on current tests and expand trainings to assist educators with the implementation of KRAs with DLLs.

States should:

  • Assess DLLs bilingually on kindergarten readiness assessments (KRAs). 
     - Invest in the development of valid bilingual assessment tools in home languages.
     - Invest in expanding access to bilingual assessors.
  • Improve and increase professional development and guidance for teachers on administering KRAs with DLLs.
  • If publicly reporting data by DLL status for KRAs, provide guidance and explain limitations of these data to users.

Through policy changes in these three areas, states can develop more equitable, inclusive data systems for DLLs in the early years. Better, more complete DLL data equips states leaders with more meaningful insights to drive public investments and supports. With one out of every four preschool-aged children considered a DLL, it is important—now more than ever—to design policies that work for this growing population of learners.