Admittedly, the Common Core State Standards are challenging for all students, but in particular for English language learners, who by definition, are positioned along various points on the pathway to full English proficiency. As states transition to these new rigorous academic content standards, educators must come to understand the central role of academic language in both language and content learning. To do so, there must be a strong correspondence between state academic standards and English language development (ELD) standards.
For the past two years, World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA), a collaborative of 27 states committed to using a common set of English language development standards, has been retooling how it represents specific dimensions of the Common Core and state academic content standards within its standards matrix. First, we conducted a formal alignment study between the Common Core and our 2007 edition of our English language proficiency standards. Subsequently, we engaged hundreds teachers, school leaders, administrators, researchers, test developers, university faculty, and national language experts in the refinement process through focus groups, professional learning workshops, meetings, and surveys.
In September, we released a draft of WIDA's 2012 Edition of the English Language Development Standards, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve on our website to kick off a two month open comment period. While our five ELD standards have remained unaltered since their inception in 2004, we have worked on improving how we illustrate academic language within our standards framework. One of the most obvious changes in the most recent edition has been presenting English language development within grade-specific topics or content rather than by grade-level clusters.
- Connection to Content Standards specifies the content standard that is directly related to the scaffolding of academic language across the levels of language proficiency
- Example Topics, drawn from academic content standards, provide the backdrop for language development across language domains
- Cognitive functions, the mental processes involved in content learning, remain uniform across a strand while the language functions note the language processed or conveyed at each level of English language proficiency
- Example Context for Language Use refers to the socio-cultural nature of language learning including the text type/ genre, register, awareness of audience, and task in which a strand of model performance indicators operates.
In addition to these elements, the three criteria of our performance definitions, mirrored in the Common Core, are illustrated in our amplified strands of the ELD standards, namely:
- Linguistic complexity — the organization, cohesion and relationship between ideas expressed in the variety and types of sentences that make up different genres and text types in oral or written language.
- Language forms and conventions — the grammatical structures, patterns, syntax, and mechanics associated with sentence level meaning
- Vocabulary usage — the specificity of words, phrases, or expression for a given context.
By creating crosswalks between the Common Core and English language development standards, teachers, school leaders, and administrators can more readily synchronize students' English language development with their academic achievement. English language learners, in turn, will be afforded the requisite language to access grade-level content and achieve in school and beyond.