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Response: ESSA & English-Language Learners

The new "question-of-the-week' is:

What is the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act on English Language Learners?


The Every Student Succeeds Act is the successor to No Child Left Behind, and it's beginning to have many impacts on our public schools. Some of those changes will affect English Language Learners, and this column will focus on what ESSA means for our ELL students.

Today's contributors are Margo Gottlieb, Sarah Said, Catherine Beck, Heidi Pace, Heather Wolpert-Gawron, Tabitha Dell'Angelo, and Lindsey Moses. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Margo, Sarah, Catherine, and Heather on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

I think ESSA has the potential to benefit ELLs because it places an increased emphasis on their success. At the same time, however, I am concerned that its placing higher-stakes on "reclassifying" ELLs as proficient in English might result in schools feeling pressured to move ELLs out of receiving supportive services too soon.

You might also be interested in:

The Best Resources For Learning How The Every Student Succeeds Act Affects English Language Learners

The Best Resources For Learning About The Ins & Outs Of Reclassifying ELLs

You can see related many past columns that have appeared here on Teaching English Language Learners.

 

Response From Margo Gottlieb

Margo Gottlieb is co-founder and lead developer of WIDA @ WCER, University of Wisconsin- Madison. Her most recent books include Language power: Key uses for accessing content (with M. Castro, 2017, Corwin), Assessing multilingual learners: A month-by-month guide (2017, ASCD), and Assessing English language learner:

Let's FACE it, our educational landscape is changing and our classrooms are becoming increasingly enriched with multilingual learners. The 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Act, ESSA, has some specific provisions for English language learners (ELLs) that affect states, such establishing a uniform set of criteria for identification and reclassification. More importantly, it affords school leaders and teachers opportunities to pursue educational excellence at the district and school levels. Here are four watchwords that are descriptive of the potential positive impact of the legislation on multilingual students.

Flexibility: Now under Title I of ESSA accountability, states and districts that are home to growing numbers of multilingual learners can more readily partake in authentic, relevant, and challenging assessment that addresses both language proficiency and academic achievement. Schools, in turn, can be more creative in designing linguistically and culturally sustainable assessment for local accountability. Multilingual students can contribute to this process by:

  • Setting personalized goals for learning and milestones for meeting them (in multiple languages) that include innovative means of documenting learning, such as producing multimedia projects and other performance tasks for digital portfolios that are maintained throughout the students' school life
  • Participating in co-constructing criteria of success with their teachers and collecting evidence for their learning through multimodalities (oral, digital, and print materials).

Agency:   Besides the inclusion of an English language proficiency indicator in ESSA accountability is the additional requirement for states to include at least one school quality or student success indicator, student engagement for one, in their accountability plans. In states choosing student engagement, multilingual learners can be given more voice in decision-making. Thus, assessment as learning that centers on student participation, joins assessment for learning that represents negotiation between teachers and students in formative ways, and assessment of learning that is supported by school leaders on a summative basis. Multilingual students can gradually become aware of their agency on the road to becoming independent thinkers and doers by:

  • Developing and demonstrating metalanguage and metacognition
  • Engaging in self- and peer assessment as part of their responsibility as learners.

Collaboration: Combining Title I and Title III funding streams under ESSA places accountability for English language proficiency alongside that of achievement; this fiscal integration is an impetus for language and content teachers to join forces as well. Consequently, multilingual students, as well as teachers and school leaders, are encouraged to interact with each other as communities of practice. Standards-based instruction that involves collaborative activities allows multilingual students to become acclimated to sociocultural norms and to have multiple language models. Learning and using language with content for these students includes:

  • discussing real-life issues, arguing points of view, recounting information, and explaining processes and procedures
  • sharing their ideas, knowledge, and understanding with others.

Equity: Multilingual students' strengths and assets, inclusive of their languages and cultures, should be the centerpiece of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. ESSA attends to equity by having states report ELLs, long-term ELLs, and ELLs with disabilities as individual groups with unique attributes, replacing NCLB's notion of equality where multilingual learners were assumed to be a monolithic group. To promote equity for multilingual students, teachers should consider:

  • scaffolding instruction and assessment based on ELLs' language proficiency levels and interests to ensure each student's learning is moving forward
  • focusing on the purposes for language use in conjunction with content-area concepts as instructional assessment strategies.

To summarize, ESSA has given states, districts, and schools opportunities to advocate on behalf of multilingual learners and to encourage their active involvement in the learning process. As educators, let's be vigilant, yet nurturing, to ensure that these students can reach their full potential.

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Response From Sarah Said

Sarah Said is currently a district level administrator that oversees English Learning and Bilingual programs in two elementary school districts in suburbs south of the city of Chicago. Sarah spent over a decade teaching and advocating for English Learners spanning from the early grades to high school aged. She has a graduate degree in Instructional Leadership: Literacy, Language, and Culture from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is married and a mother of three who enjoys traveling with her family:

The Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, holds states more accountable for the progress of English Learners. From a large-scale point of view, schools and districts will now have to provide data to prove that English Learners are demonstrating proficiency on state content assessments and in the English Language. ESSA will also provide schools with more guidelines for supporting students who have exited English Learner programs.

What can this mean for a new classroom teacher? 

Professional Development on Teaching English Learners:  Being that there is a rapid increase in students with English Learner classification nationwide, schools and districts are starting to move towards diverse methods in educating new and veteran teachers on strategies to reach English Learners with their instruction.  Depending on the school you are teaching in, you may receive coaching or training in various EL strategies and frameworks.  Some districts are encouraging new teachers to continue their education by taking courses to receive endorsements to specialize in English Learning and Bilingual education, while others may invest in having teachers learn more about Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol to prepare them for the diversity of learners in the classroom. 

Progress Monitoring: In addition to an increase in professional development on instruction of English Learners, there will be more progress monitoring of English Learners as well as students who have exited programs. Being that districts already use multiple methods to assess reading and writing, they may look for specific  methods to assess these skills in English learners as well as speaking and listening to monitor the growth prior to end of the year assessments. They will seek tools to assess progress of English Learners in content areas to assure that they are on track for success.    

ESSA has made supporting students who have exited programs more of a necessity than in the past. These students will now be monitored for four years after meeting proficiency on assessments of English Learning to keep them on track for college and career readiness. This requires districts to invest time in developing systems that increase and support collaboration between general classroom teachers, teachers who specialize in English Learner and Bilingual education, and administration to track growth of these students as they continue their education.

Increased Push for Parental Involvement:  It is not new for schools across America to strive to work with parents as educational partners of their learners. Schools will increase their methods to engage parents, not only because of accountability, but because it is what plants a foundation to a successful future for learners. From my own experience as a teacher, parent and administrator—parents of English learners are willing to collaborate with teachers on learning—teachers just need to find ways to reach them culturally and at times linguistically. This means being creative with time, resources, programs, and technology.

At the end of the day, it takes passion, risk-taking, innovation, open mindedness, teamwork, and heart to create an environment in a classroom that is conducive to supporting all learners. My advice to you as a new teacher is to not be afraid of challenging yourself to always search for different avenues to ensure the experience your students have in your classroom not only helps them become college and career ready, but also "life-ready."

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Response From Catherine Beck & Heidi Pace

Catherine Beck currently serves as Director of Schools for Cheatham County Schools in Tennessee. She is the co-author of Leading Learning for ELL Students, published by Routledge. You can connect with her on Twitter at @cathypetreebeck.

Heidi Pace is the former superintendent of Summit County Schools in Colorado. She currently teaches in higher education. She is the co-author of Leading Learning for ELL Students:

There are over 4.5 million English Language Learners (ELLs) in U.S. public schools and this number continues to grow with each year. The recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was written to include provisions to address the needs of this population. Educators have historically faced challenges in regards to working with ELLs. These challenges include:

  • Having opportunities for high quality professional development to understand how to provide best instruction for ELLs.
  • Being required to give state assessments that are more often a test of language acquisition rather than grade level content.
  • Partnering with families that have had different educational experiences and getting them to engage in our school systems.

The good news is that ESSA addresses these challenges in various ways and degrees of support. ESSA provides resources to states and school districts to establish, implement and sustain high-quality language instruction designed to ensure that English learners, including immigrant children and youth, develop both English language proficiency and content proficiency in math and English, as measured against challenging academic standards (American Federation of Teachers). English Language Learners will benefit by having teachers that understand the components of second language instructional strategies. Preservice teachers often enter their first jobs with little or no preparation in this area.

ESSA allows ELLs to be exempt from state assessments. Districts may have the choice to exclude the student from taking the reading/English language arts test and from counting results of either or both the math and English language arts tests. They also have the option to report on but exclude from accountability systems the results on these tests. Additionally, for the second year of enrollment, states may include a measure of student growth on both tests, and for the third year of enrollment, include proficiency on both tests in the accountability system. This is a positive step toward ensuring that these high stakes state assessments are more reflective of ELL content knowledge. However, states should not expect a student to attain English language proficiency within three years.

Language acquisition for ELLs is required by ESSA to be reported as an accountability measure. Also, each state is required to develop entrance and exit criteria for an ELL status. This component helps provide a concentrated focus for language acceleration for ELLs and gives stability for ELL students if they transfer among districts or schools.

ESSA has deliberately addressed the need to involve parents of all students, including ELLs, and only upon having a jointly developed district plan to successfully engage families can a district recieve funding for parent engagement. The law requires schools to remove barriers to greater participation by parents in Title I activities with a focus on parents who are economically disadvantaged, are disabled, have limited English proficiency, have limited literacy, or are of any racial or ethnic minority background (Ann T. Henderson, NEW.org).

English Language Learners stand to benefit greatly with the Every Student Succeeds Act. While it is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction to providing the intentionality all states must take to better serve the needs of our ELLs. By highlighting language acquisition and proficiency, the inequities and bias in state assessments, and the focus on family engagement for all students, our ELLs are more likely to see an increase in student achievement and a decrease in the opportunity gap that many of them face daily.

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Response From Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is an award-winning middle school teacher. She is a staff blogger for Edutopia and also blogs at tweenteacher.com. She is the author of such books as: Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement (Corwin, 2017), DIY for Project Based Learning for ELA and History (Routledge, 2015), and DIY for Project Based Learning for Math and Science (Routledge, 2016):

The impact is in the confusion and lack of directive in how to help our growing ELL population. It seems whenever there's a newly minted law, the panic in our educational system sets in and logic goes out the window.  

We know, for instance, that ELL learners need more visual learning, smaller class sizes to give them more targeted and frequent feedback, and an awareness that lack of English does not mean a lack of critical thinking. We need teachers who understand that we need to assess for content knowledge, not compliance. We should be using the tools out there to engage students so that we weed out boredom when assessing knowledge. If one is teaching math, why can't an ELL learner answer certain questions orally or with a Screencast? Many times, these students can speak more efficiently on the content since the act of writing is still a gatekeeper. These amazing students are comprehending the world around them at a deep level, but are continuously stuck in drill-and-kill foundational classes. As budgets get slashed, however, it gets harder and harder to address the needs of this population, as well as others. Those of us tasked with educating every student are getting mixed messages.  

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Response From Tabitha Dell'Angelo

Tabitha Dell'Angelo is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Urban Education Program at The College of New Jersey and co-editor of Using Photography and Other Arts-Based Methods with English Language Learners: Guidance, Resources, and Activities for P-12 Educators (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). Jessica Gaeckle, an Elementary ESL Teacher in Pleasantville, N.J., also assisted with this response:

I must admit that before answering this question I read the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] for the first time. It is 449 pages and clearly written in a way that discourages anyone to read it (https://www2.ed.gov/documents/essa-act-of-1965.pdf). It reminded me that although I like the idea of influencing policy, I never want to write policy. The real problem is that they way in which these documents are written leaves most of us learning about the ins and outs by reading someone else's analysis of it, rather than reading the source material ourselves.

When reading the ESSA it is easy to believe that positive gains will be the result. ESSA promises effective teacher and principal training, meaningful professional development, and the implementation of effective language instruction and instructional strategies. These are all good ideas. Unfortunately, there is a gap between what is written and what is happening. To answer this question, I spoke with ELL/ESL teachers and they told me that what is on paper and what happens in practice are very different.  In this short answer, I will discuss just two of ESSA's promises.

  1. Support and Professional Development for Teachers

Teachers report that schools often provide insufficient education and social emotional care to English Language Learners and fail to train the instructors who are accountable for teaching them. Moreover, the fewer resources that the district enjoys, the more likely students are to have under-prepared and under-supported teachers. Administrators and teacher leaders need to understand the incredible diversity of ELLs. This recognition will allow the needs of students to drive professional development opportunities and pedagogical decisions rather than allowing policy to drive pedagogy.

  1. Accountability

Although years of research tell us that it takes at least five years for someone to become proficient in English, students who are in the country for one year plus one day are subject to the requirement to sit for standardized testing. The expectation is that the students will perform at grade level. There is no differentiation of expectations for ELLs and native English speakers.

This level of accountability is stress-producing for both students and their teachers. Teachers worry both about their students and about their own evaluations based on student performance. And students are savvy enough to know when they are not working at grade level. Taking State exams is extremely stressful and that stress can get in their way cognitively and emotionally. Accountability standards need to be differentiated to meet the needs of non-Native English speakers. That might mean giving ELLs more time to adjust before inappropriately subjecting them to high stakes/high stress tests in the name of accountability.

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Response From Lindsey Moses

Lindsey Moses is an associate professor, speaker, staff-developer, and professional development residency provider.  A former elementary teacher, Lindsey works with classroom teachers across the country supporting the implementation of effective literacy instruction in diverse settings. She is an associate professor of literacy education at Arizona State University, and conducts ongoing classroom-based research on elementary literacy instruction in classroom settings with English learners. She has authored three books: Supporting English Learners in the Reading Workshop (2015); Comprehension and English Learners (2009) with Michael F. Opitz; and What Are All the Other Kids Doing? Fostering Independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop (2017) with Meridith Ogden:

Ten percent of the school-age population in the United States are fortunate enough to speak more than one language and be classified as an English Learner (EL) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has made some specific adjustments related to educating ELs. Policy makers, administrators, teachers, and communities are all hopeful that the implementation of ESSA will bring new and more effective educational opportunities for all students. While the ESSA still retains basic components of accountability, states, districts, and local schools now have more responsibility in designing their own accountability systems.

States are required to track ELs' progress through standardized, statewide entrance and exit procedures. These include language proficiency assessments and procedures for identifying ELs and determining when services to support language are no longer needed (also referred to as reclassification). ESSA also encourages states to use a variety of readiness and engagement indicators when designing the assessment and accountability systems. Hopefully, the consistent procedures will make tracking ELs' progress easier, more reliable, and grounded in the needs of local contexts. Along with this monitoring, states can now include ELs who have been reclassified for four years in data reporting, instead of the previous time limit of two years. Acquiring a second language takes between 4-10 years, so this extension of monitoring time will give a more accurate understanding of ELs' development over time. This understanding will enhance both program evaluation and instructional decisions.

Another assessment impact that ESSA has on ELs is that states now have two options for assessing and reporting for recently-arrived ELs:

  • States can exclude recently-arrived ELs until they have been enrolled in a U.S. school for one year.
  • States can test recently-arrived ELs, but exclude the results from accountability measures the first year. Then, they measure student growth in the second year and proficiency on academic assessments beginning in the third year in a U.S. school.

Beyond assessment, ESSA includes a greater focus on teacher development and family engagement. ESSA makes expectations for professional development and teacher training more explicit by suggesting that instructional programs for ELs should be supported by teachers with expertise in EL pedagogy. Parent and family engagement is also emphasized and includes requirements to remove challenges to participation for families of ELs.

When asked how ESSA impacts ELs, Lauren Gifford, Assistant Principal of Port Salerno Elementary, said:

"One thing that we are particularly cognizant of is the fact that all students—regardless of high need or disadvantaged status are afforded high academic and rigorous instruction in order to propel them toward career and college readiness. Communication between all stakeholders is critical in order to keep everyone informed of data and how progress toward proficiency is monitored through multiple data points. With EL's we are vigilant in watching growth towards proficiency in conjunction with their stages of language acquisition."

Let's hope ESSA will bring this type of reflection and commitment to ELs in all schools.

My largest and primary concern with ESSA is the lack of attention to the importance of bilingualism and bilingual education. In our increasingly global society, the potential benefits and opportunities for developing bilingual, global citizens was missed in ESSA.

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Thanks to Margo, Sarah, Catherine, Heidi, Heather, Tabitha, and Lindsey for their contributions!

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