Your Role in the Common Core: Advocating for ELLs (Part 1)
I have been very fortunate this fall to work with dedicated teachers and administrators in a few different states who are involved with the education of English language learners (ELLs). As I’ve been speaking with these educators and keeping up with publications such as Education Week, it has become very clear most people feel passionately one way or the other about the implementation of the CCSS. While there are many educators who strongly support the CCSS, there are others who are very vocal in questioning or opposing the new standards.
When it comes to teaching and assessing the unique ELL population through the Common Core, those feelings often become intensified, especially if ELLs have not typically been at the forefront of school, district, or statewide policy decisions in previous years (or ever!) and if they have not been part of recent CCSS planning. Subsequently, ESL teachers and other educators who work with ELLs may find that they are the ones who will need to make sure ELLs are considered when it comes to implementing the CCSS.
A critical part of effectively educating ELLs involves being an advocate and speaking up on students' behalf. (If you’re interested in exploring more about this topic, I provide a research base and practical tools to support educators to develop their ELL advocacy toolkit in my new book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators.) Along those lines, the purpose of this blog is to provide educators information so that they can make informed decisions about ways to advocate for ELLs as part of CCSS implementation. This blog post will focus on an interactive checklist to help educators of ELLs reflect on areas of CCSS preparation and rollout taking place in their setting and prioritize areas for their future action. (Part 2 focuses on specific action items that can be included in educators' advocacy.)
Prioritizing Areas to Support ELLs in the CCSS
There are so many considerations around what the new standards will mean for ELLs at the classroom, district, state, and national level. The first consideration is the existing ELL programming and focus within a school district, which sets the stage for CCSS implementation. One of the frustrations I often hear is that educators whose districts have not made ELL success a priority in the past are concerned about their students meeting the new rigorous standards. Those concerns are being felt across the country.
However, the CCSS can also present an opportunity to improve ELL education in the district or to build upon what is already working when ESL teachers use their voice to advocate for ELLs. The first step is figuring out what is working and what isn't when it comes to ELLs in your school or district.
It may be difficult to get a sense of where your school or district stand as a whole in terms of the degree to which ELLs have been included in thinking through the CCSS implementation. There are many areas in which the rollout of the CCSS affects ELLs as well as their teachers, which I will detail below. Educators need to first reflect on how these questions can be answered in their own setting before they can channel their energy into making sure ELLs are represented and fully considered in their school or district CCSS policies.
Collaborating Within Your Sphere of Influence
On a related note, I believe it’s important for teachers and administrators to first have a sense of their own "sphere of influence" in order to be effective advocates of ELLs. In international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or conceptual division over which a state or organization has significant cultural, economic, military, or political influence. In the case of education, educators each have a sphere of influence in which they have the power to create an equitable environment for ELLs. Your space might be at the classroom, grade, or district level. Once you have experienced success within your sphere, you can consider expanding your sphere to reach more educators and ELLs. The Equity Audit below will help you get a sense of your expanding sphere and work within it to provide a voice on behalf of ELLs and their families who may have not yet fully developed their own advocacy skills when it comes to the CCSS.
Conducting an "Equity Audit"
To further delve into these questions, I recently created the following table and shared it with some educators at the GATESOL and NYSTESOL conferences this fall. I thought you might find this tool useful for this discussion as well. I adapted the concept of Alford & Niño’s “equity audit” from their book Leading Academic Achievement for English Language Learners: A Guide for Principals (2011). These authors describe an equity audit as providing a "snapshot of the programs and resources to which ELLs have access." It's designed to be a starting point for providing ELLs access to rigor and high expectations.
The CCSS for ELLs Equity Audit Table below is a collaborative tool designed to foster conversations and brainstorm appropriate actions for educators. Not surprisingly, all of the CCSS implementation consideration areas in the table also link to previous blog posts and information on Colorín Colorado, so this tool ties in several different areas on which we have focused so far. (The table is also available in a Word or PDF format.)
CCSS for ELLs Equity Audit Table
|CCSS Implementation Consideration||Questions to Ask: To What Degree…||Response||Action Items|
|Role of ESL teacher||Are ESL teachers working as experts and consultants & collaborating with general education teachers in implementing the CCSS?|
|Instructional materials & curriculum||Are CCSS-based instructional materials & curriculum appropriate for ELLs?|
|Professional development||Does Common Core PD focus on preparing all teachers to implement the CCSS for ELLs?|
|Assessment||Are teachers aware of the demands of CCSS assessments for ELLs & adjusting instruction? Are they using effective accommodations with ELLs in instruction and assessment?|
|ELL parent outreach||Are ELL parents aware of implications of CCSS and their assessments?|
|Teacher evaluation||Is teacher evaluation for all teachers inclusive of ELs accessing the CCSS?|
Using the CCSS for ELLs Equity Audit Table
I recommend you fill out the form in teams and discuss the results with you - the ESL teacher - facilitating the discussion. This dialogue could take place as part of a grade level meeting, professional development or Professional Learning Community. After you have had a chance to use the table to collaborate with other educators and administrators at your school or district, you will then need to prioritize action items and begin working on them. I advise educators to first focus on one or two areas in which they can experience success in positioning their ELLs for better access to the CCSS.
All of the areas in the Equity Audit will require collaboration with other colleagues in order to effect changes that will benefit ELLs. After deciding which issue you’ll focus on and whom you’ll collaborate with, it’s important to begin your efforts by reaching out to those colleagues who you know (or suspect) will be receptive to improving ELLs’ access to the CCSS. This way, you'll set yourself up for some early, energizing successes.
For example, if you've decided to focus on CCSS assessment for ELLs, you could collaborate with your school’s testing coordinator and content area or grade level teachers to first examine sample CCSS-based content test items through an ELL lens to get a sense of the demands of the assessments on ELLs. You could then work together to determine instructional supports that would benefit ELLs so they their teachers can begin working towards providing ELLs scaffolded content instruction that addresses the CCSS and also prepares students for the types of content assessments they will need to take. You can also review the accommodations allowed for ELLs on CCSS-based assessments and work with content or grade level teachers to support them in integrating accommodations appropriate for those ELLs into instruction to the extent possible.
My hope is that you’ll find the CCSS for ELLs Equity Audit useful in giving you a sense of where your school and district fall along the continuum of equitable CCSS-based implementation, which will allow you to help plan for the action you need to take on ELLs’ behalf. (Maybe you can think about using the Equity Audit after a big Thanksgiving Dinner!) Please comment and let us know where your school stands and what you’re doing to support ELLs with the CCSS!