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Common Core Standards and ELLs: What's Happening in Calif.?

I've been spending this week in northern California reporting on a number of things: dual language programs, a new biliteracy seal for graduating seniors, and other issues in this state where one in four public school students are English-learners.

I have been in schools in San Jose, San Francisco, and, for the last two days, in Sacramento, where teachers from across the state who work with English-learners have gathered for the annual conference of the California Association of Bilingual Education.

Everywhere I have been, I've been asking the teachers and administrators I meet what is going on with the common core in California—at the state level, in the districts, and in their schools. Are they ready, I ask?

"I don't know" is the most common answer.

While there are folks in the state department of education and within district offices that are working on the implementation phase of the common standards, it seems that little information so far is trickling down to the school level. And when it comes to teachers and administrators who work with English-learners, the information may be even more scant.

Two high school teachers who teach English-language development—one in San Diego County, the other in a school in San Bernadino County—told me that they've heard virtually nothing about the new standards. And when it comes to figuring out strategies to help their English-learner students access what is going to be more rigorous content in the new math and English/language arts standards, both of them said that teachers would have to figure it out "on our own."

Janis Hubbs is the principal at Gardner Academy, an elementary School in downtown San Jose, where 65 percent of the students are English-learners.

She knows about the common core, and knows that the demands of the standards are going to require more from teachers and from students. She wonders what tools and strategies will be made available to teachers of English-learners to ensure those students have the same access to the rigors of the standards as their non-ELL peers will have.

"But I have no idea how this is going to be implemented," she said. "In my view, it doesn't seem like much is happening to get all of us ready for what everyone is saying will be a huge change."

And, points out Ted Appel, the principal of Luther Burbank High School in south Sacramento, where 60 percent of students are English-learners, the new standards don't account for many of the realities of the students who attend his school. Burbank has many recent immigrants—especially from southeast Asia— and has been successful in getting its English-learners over major academic hurdles, such as passing California's high school exit exam.

"There are just so many variables that impact what we do here and how we do it," he said. "If we're going to have these higher standards and we get newcomers who are 17 years old, do we put them in 12th grade classes and teach them 12th grade standards? That's the reality we will be up against."

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