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Common Core and ELLs: Next Steps for California

In a state where one in every four public K-12 students is an English-language learner, there's a whole lot riding on how well California's educators are able to support this population of students as they face the greater language demands of the common core standards in English/language arts and math.

And while there is not universal agreement that the more rigorous common standards and the upcoming common assessments will benefit English-language learners, there is still a fairly broad consensus that the new academic goals offer a promising opportunity to upgrade the rigor and the quality of education that most ELLs receive in public schools.

To help make sure that opportunity isn't squandered in California, two experts on English-language learners are making a series of concrete policy recommendations for the state to act on.

Here's a quick recap of what Robert Linquanti, of WestEd, and Kenji Hakuta, of Stanford University, are urging in a brand-new policy brief published by Policy Analysis for California Education:

• First, they make a strong case for rethinking how the subgroup category of ELL is used for accountability purposes in California—a problem that has extended to all states since No Child Left Behind. English-language learner status is meant to be a temporary one that students eventually leave, so, by design, the category is always going to skew to the low-performing side of the achievement spectrum. That's because once students who are best at acquiring language and academic content exit the category, their results are no longer factored into the ELL subgroup for accountability purposes. As Linquanti and Hakuta point out, any growth those particular students demonstrate doesn't get captured in a meaningful way. One solution, they argue, is to create, alongside the current ELL subgroup, an "ever-EL" group that would not only report on outcomes for current ELLs, but also reclassified English-learners.

• Second, they argue that California, which is already working to revise its current English-language development (ELD) standards (those benchmarks that show students' progress toward proficiency by grade level) to align with the common standards in English/language arts, should expand that endeavor to also align the new ELD standards with the explicit language demands that are in the new math standards and the forthcoming science standards.

• Third, they call for the state's teacher credentialing officials to take a hard look at whether current requirements for educators seeking endorsements in ESL, for example, match up with what will be necessary to effectively teach ELLs the common core.

• Finally, Linquanti and Hakuta contend that as a governing state in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, California should use its clout to push for the new assessments to eventually include a way to measure how all students—not just ELLs—do when it comes to their handling of sophisticated language uses called for in the standards such as constructing an argument, paraphrasing, or providing evidence.

As most of you already know, Hakuta is co-directing the team of ELL experts, which includes Linquanti, that is developing resources for teaching the common core to English-learners.

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