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How School People Can Collaborate to Help ELLs

Someone over at the language-education division of Caslon Publishing in Philadelphia sent me review copies of a couple of handbooks published in 2007 that I think could help school people who want to form districtwide teams to address needs of ELLs.

The first handbook, Special Education Considerations for English Language Learners: Delivering a Continuum of Services, which costs $34.95, advises educators on how to move beyond the question of "to refer or not to refer" an English-language learner to special education. It explains how schools can bring together a team of people with different kinds of expertise to address a significant learning problem rather than try to figure out right from the start if an ELL has a disability.

In browsing the handbook, I recalled how Missouri has tried to actively address a problem of underrepresentation in special education of ELLs, which I wrote about last school year. Missouri teachers were receiving training on how to better collaborate with other educators in their schools to take a series of steps, including trying various interventions and then documenting a child's progress or lack of progress, to decide if an ELL needed special education services.

The second handbook, Assessment & Accountability in Language Education Programs, also $34.95, tells how educators can collaborate to use test scores and other data to improve education for ELLs. For dual-language or transitional bilingual education programs, the handbook stresses the importance of school districts' paying attention to test scores in Spanish as well as in English when evaluating programs, if students are receiving instruction in Spanish.

One big change I've seen in the eight years I've been reporting on ELLs for Education Week is that educators are thinking more in terms of how to systematically improve instruction for ELLs. That means involving a wide range of educators in a school or district, rather than just leaving it up to the English-as-a-second-language teacher or bilingual education teacher to figure it out. The publication of these handbooks are a sign of that, I think.

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