The effects of changing test-based policies for reclassifying English Learners: A difference-in-regression-discontinuities approach
Joseph Robinson Cimpian

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Primary Discipline

Political Science
Language-minority students who enter the school system as English Learners (ELs) are expected, during their time as students, to be reclassified as Fluent English Proficient (R-FEP). Policy considerations tend to focus on increasing the speed with which ELs are reclassified. While attaining English proficiency is indeed important, it is also important to keep in mind that ELs and R-FEPs often receive different instructional bundles (e.g., services, settings, teachers, peers), and thus it is imperative to evaluate reclassification effects on academic outcomes. This paper has two goals: first, to demonstrate that reclassification policies and changes in those policies can indeed affect achievement and graduation, and are thus important to evaluate; and second, to compare methods for evaluating these policies. With respect to the first goal, we demonstrate that attaining the reclassification criteria—and, as a result, being reclassified—can have significant effects on both subsequent achievement and graduation. We provide the first examination of changes in reclassification criteria over two policy periods—and we do so with data on Latino/a students from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the U.S. district serving the largest number of ELs, thus providing a powerful and dynamic demonstration of reclassification effects. Using “difference-in-regression-discontinuities” approaches, we find consistent evidence that a policy change, which increased the difficulty in attaining the test-based criteria for EL reclassification eligibility, had significant effects on high-school students’ subsequent English language arts achievement (0.18 SDs) and graduation outcomes (11 percentage points). Specifically, when the criteria for reclassification were lower, students experienced negative effects of reclassification; but when the criteria were raised, students no longer experienced these negative effects. Students in elementary and middle school showed no significant evidence of positive or negative effects in either policy period. With respect to the second goal, regression-based and regression-discontinuity-based methods often led to incongruent conclusions about not only the effects of reclassification, but also the effects of changing reclassification criteria. Thus, this paper highlights the importance both of evaluating reclassification policies (and changes in those policies) and of the choice of evaluation methods.
About Joseph Robinson Cimpian
Dr. Cimpian’s research focuses on social, psychological, and institutional factors affecting equity and access, particularly concerning sexual minorities, women, and language minorities. With his colleagues, he has recently examined how bullying relates to psychological disparities between sexual-minority and heterosexual youth, how teachers’ expectations of girls’ and boys’ math abilities predict growth in the gender gap, and how well-intentioned education policies may hinder achievement for English Language Learners. His research also concerns the advancement of methods to study equity and policy. He has received funding for his research from the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, CRESST, the AERA Grants Board, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), and the Illinois State Board of Education. His research has been published in Pediatrics, Educational Researcher, the American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, among other journals and edited volumes. He is a faculty affiliate of the Forum on the Future of Public Education and the Los Angeles Education Research Institute, and he has served on the editorial boards of the American Educational Research Journal and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Dr. Cimpian teaches several courses on statistics and research design, including a course on quasi-experimental design and causal inference. He received his Ph.D. in economics of education from Stanford University in 2009 and began as an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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