Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride, Angela McKnight, Jamel Holley and Eliana Pintor Marin to help connect high-performing non-native English speakers to resources that can foster their academic potential was approved 38-0 Monday by the Senate, giving it final legislative approval.
The bill was approved by the Assembly in March.
Because tests that screen for advanced intellectual ability typically are offered only in English, gifted and talented programs often inadvertently exclude gifted students who have not yet mastered the English language, the sponsors noted.
“Too often, students with exceptional intellectual capabilities are overlooked because of their limited ability to express themselves in English. The reality, however, is that these students typically can read and write at an advanced level in their native languages, excel at mathematics and are adept at learning a new language and culture,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Just as their peers who grew up speaking English at home have opportunities to explore more advanced academic pursuits, gifted English language learners should be identified and placed in programs that suit their level of intelligence.”
The bill (A-4175) would require the commissioner of the Department of Education to develop guidance for school districts on identifying English language learners for gifted and talented programs.
“ESL students who are gifted academically should not be denied the opportunity to excel because of a language barrier,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “This bill helps ensure that talented ESL students who deserve to be in, and could benefit from such advance programs are not left out.”
“ESL students who are intellectually advanced should be able to enjoy the same educational benefits that come with participating in a gifted and talented program, as their English speaking peers,” said Holley (D-Union).
“All students who excel academically should be able to pursue more challenging work,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “Gifted ESL students are limited by language only. We owe it to these students to figure out how we can help them thrive and meet their full potential.”
Under the bill, the commissioner’s guidance would assist districts in identifying gifted English language learners in grades kindergarten through 12 in an effort to reduce the underrepresentation of this student population in gifted and talented programs. The guidance would include information on: recognizing and addressing potential challenges in the process of identifying gifted English language learners; the use of multiple methods and measures in assessing the eligibility of English language learners for gifted and talented programs; and the importance of professional development and collaboration among teachers in the identification process, including teachers of English language learner programs, teachers of gifted and talented programs and general classroom teachers.