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California Works on New English-Language Development Standards

California education officials are moving ahead to revamp the state's English-language development standards so that they are aligned with the academic demands of the common-core standards in English/language arts. The state education agency has published the draft ELD standards for each grade level, along with loads of other supporting documents, and is asking for feedback before final adoption later this summer.

This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. For one, the sheer size of its English-language learner population—roughly 25 percent of the public school enrollment statewide—often makes California's policies and practices on English-language learners a signal of what other states may do later. Second, California is, once again, part of a group of states seeking to win a multimillion dollar federal grant to design a new assessment of English-language proficiency that will measure the language demands of the common standards.

While the overall intent of the new ELD standards—which are spelled out by grade level—is to make explicit connections to the common-core content standards, there are important shifts woven throughout the documents that point to how California plans to think about, and approach, the instruction of its English learners.

In the introduction, there is explicit acknowledgement of the challenges faced by long-term ELLs—those English-learners who have struggled to reach proficiency even after five years or more of services. This is a telling development, given that, just a few years ago, the issues of long-term ELLs did not appear to be at the forefront of any policy discussions or school reform efforts.

Also, the draft standards emphasize that an ELL's primary language and culture should be viewed as an asset for teachers to build upon, which to me at least, represents a sign of how the grip of Proposition 227—which severely restricted the use of bilingual education—appears to be loosening in California.

Now, returning to the matter of California seeking to secure, for the second time, a federal grant to help pay for designing a new English-language proficiency test. You remember how, last fall, a group of 28 states, led by Wisconsin's department of education, won a $10.5 million grant to develop just such an assessment to measure the language demands of the common core. The Wisconsin-led group is collaborating with the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA, to develop the technology-based exams. California, which partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers, was the lead state in a group of 15 that lost out.

This time, Oregon is applying for the same type of grant as the lead state on behalf of several others that include California and Florida. Again, CCSSO is collaborating on the application. For some reason, the U.S. Department of Education is being tight-lipped about any further details, but a spokesperson did tell me that Maryland has applied, as has Kansas. It's not clear yet whether they are also the lead states in different groups. I also know that in the Oregon-led group of nine states, there are six others, including New York, that have expressed support for the application and may eventually formally join the effort.

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