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Ed Department to Host 'Race to the Top' Meeting on Assessing ELLs

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Schools and the Stimulus

The U.S. Department of Education has made English-language learners the focus of one of the three public meetings it will soon be hosting on how $350 million in Race to the Top funds for assessments should be given out. Holding a meeting to focus on ELLs is the strongest message that the Education Department has sent to the public so far, from my point of view, that ELLs should be the beneficiaries of stimulus funds.

The meeting on how to accurately measure the content knowledge of ELLs is scheduled for Dec. 1 and 2 in Denver.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act itself does not mention English-language learners specifically. A group of ELL experts has been urging school districts and states to include ELLs in their plans for spending stimulus funds.

Diane August, a senior research scientist for the Center for Applied Linguistics, who is a member of that group of ELL experts, said it's a good sign that one of the assessment meetings is highlighting needs of ELLs.

She said she'd like to see the federal government support efforts to make tests implemented for accountability purposes more useful for guiding teachers in improving instruction of ELLs and other students. August said that while often teachers don't receive student results from state tests in a timely manner, "even if they did, I don't think [the results] are geared to helping teachers figure out what to do in the classroom."

ELLs are subjected to more testing than most groups of students because the federal government requires them to be tested both in their progress in learning English and their academic content knowledge.

"It's a huge problem that so much time is spent testing that there is not time for instruction," August added.

I've heard some version of that concern from a number of teachers I've met across the country. And if some of those teachers can't make it out to the Mile High City for the meeting on ELL assessments, they still can respond to an invitation by the Education Department to submit comments on assessment issues in writing. Use the following e-mail address: [email protected]

4 Comments

It's about time there are conversations at the highest levels regarding English Language Learners (ELLs). ELLs have long been the invisible elephant in the room whenever there have been conversations of any large or long-term significance regarding education in the U.S. Here in Las Vegas over 20% of students are Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and a significantly higher percentage than that are enrolled in ELL programs.

In case nobody has noticed, Latinos (the vast majority of ELLs) are the (not-too-distant) future of the U.S. In Las Vegas, 41% of school kids are Hispanic, vs. 35% White. If we commit to a focused, significant investment in improving their literacy and success in school, we will undoubtedly reap the benefits relatively soon as a society. Conversely, if we don’t make that investment we will all continue to pay an escalating price.

But are we missing or ignoring the English language proficiency of the students’ parents? Many parents are even less proficient in English than their kids; which of course leads to serious challenges for parents wanting to help their kids with schoolwork and other important life skills and lessons.

While our school systems are currently not funded to teach English to all parents who want to learn, maybe we should have an increased sense of urgency to do so. We could dramatically ramp up marketing/community awareness of increased ESL/EFL offerings, (at public schools and elsewhere), and also improve the effectiveness of the programs by including some more intense English language programs in addition to the open-enrollment programs most often available.

Charter schools and vouchers have a place in K-12 education – why not for the kids’ parents as well? Common sense leads me to believe that money spent on helping parents speak (and read and write) English will lead to increased involvement in their kids’ schoolwork, and thus to more successful students.

And in addition to sending their kids to school better prepared to learn, parents will be improving their own skills and prospects, leading to better overall quality of life for the families – and an improved impact on society as a whole.

I think John is on the right track. In most cases of ESL the parents are not proficient in English. In many cases, they speak no English. Establishing adult programs at our K-12 schools would offer those parents who work a neighboirhood venue for ESL classes.
It is a fact that children learnbetter when their parents learn along with them.

How exciting that there is some meaningful movement on academic/assessment accountability for ESL students. I can envisage a time in the near future in which general education teachers will be in consistent collaborative planning sessions to create lessons and assessments that measure what their ESL students should know, understand and be able to do, in all content areas.
I remember when no such accountability was deemed important with ESLs, special education and gifted ed students. Kudos to professor Diane English for being part of this historic undertaking. Val

We need to respond to the invitation to comment. I'm wondering what happened to the idea that tests are intended to get an insight into what students learned so that they could be supported to better learn what they did not understand? We appear to want the test to guide the WHAT? Perhaps we should be clear on WHAT the students are to learn and to what level of understanding so that the tests can then be used to discern the aspects of the concepts and content were learned and to what degree. Diane August is right, but we need more than tests and standards, we need to support teachers in translating standards to lessons that will help ELLs learn with understanding. There is so much more, but this is a start.

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