Advocating for ELLs in Implementing the CCSS

While facilitating an ELL Advocacy Summit hosted by the National Education Association (NEA) in Austin, Texas over the past weekend, a participant from California handed me a resource I had not seen before, "Raise Your Voice on Behalf of English Learners: The English Learners and Common Core Advocacy Toolkit.” This toolkit was produced by Californians Together, a coalition of parents, educators, and civil rights groups from across the state of California that works to improve quality education for children from under-served communities.

While some of the information provided in the toolkit is specific to California, it certainly helps inform CCSS conversations that are taking place across the nation. In this post, I’ll first share some highlights of the toolkit, and then I’ll leave you with my takeaways. The full toolkit is not available online but related resources are posted on the Californians Together website, and you can order a hard copy of the toolkit for a minimal fee.

In addition, I'd like to mention that one reason this toolkit caught my attention is that I am passionate about advocating for ELLs and have just written a book on this topic, which will be published this fall by Corwin Press -- stay tuned!

Contents of the ELs and CCSS Advocacy Toolkit

Californians Together was founded in 1998 after the passage of Proposition 227, which effectively eliminated most bilingual classes in the state. Californians Together has partnered with many other organizations with a vision to “foster full participation in a democratic society through quality education for children and parents from underserved communities.”

One of their key activities has been the development of California's Seal of Biliteracy, an award that validates, certifies and encourages students to pursue and attain high level mastery of two or more languages through a Seal granted upon high school graduation to all students with such skills. You can learn more about the development of this program from Dr. Laurie Olsen, Executive Director of Californians Together.

ReportRecently, Californians Together has also been focused on the Common Core, producing the CCSS advocacy toolkit in collaboration with the California Association for Bilingual Education and National Council of La Raza. The toolkit is designed to provide talking points to support stakeholders in a variety of roles as they advocate on behalf of English language learners at the local, district, and state levels when it comes to implementing the CCSS. Information about the toolkit was posted to the Californians Together website in February 2013.

The Toolkit contains five components:

  • A background paper that presents the opportunities and challenges that the CCSS present for curriculum, instruction, and assessment of ELLs
  • Talking points for policy makers at the school and district level to use so that they can articulate the needs of ELLs in dialogues around the CCSS
  • A “palm card” that highlights key issues that stakeholders can raise to support the needs of ELLs in any CCSS conversation
  • A Power point presentation to address the needs of ELLs while implementing the Common Core Standards
  • A CD containing the PDFs of all the documents in the kit plus two resource articles

Toolkit Takeaways

This toolkit begins on a positive note and states that the CCSS support research-based strategies that are essential for ELLs and pose the opportunity to implement “powerful approaches” that have proved difficult in the past. The CCSS call for the increased role  of collaboration and teamwork. The role of language throughout the CCSS sets the stage for more project- and inquiry-based learning for students as well as the integration of the 4Cs called for as part of 21st century skills – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

However, the toolkit acknowledges several issues about ELLs that are not addressed in the CCSS. One of these is that the CCSS assume all students have a basic level of English proficiency. In addition, the standards don’t address the study of English as a Second (or Additional) Language or how ELLs will acquire the foundational English they need to access the CCSS. While the CCSS are defined in terms of developing college and career readiness, they do not address essential elements that ELLs as well as other cultural and linguistic minority students will need to develop in the 21st century, including developing a sense of identity, empathy, and cultural connections and understanding.

The toolkit posits that the CCSS don’t do enough in terms of focusing on intercultural communication and biliteracy necessary in today’s global environment. The CCSS must therefore be supplemented with standards and objectives related to language transfer, contrastive analysis, and learning opportunities when students study in and across two languages.

Concerns and Actions

The toolkit also explicates many concerns, such as English language development (ELD) standards being overshadowed, unknown, and unimplemented. To ensure that ELD standards are utilized as they are intended, the toolkit advocates for state and professional leadership to provide guidance and monitoring on ELD standards. Californians Together stresses a need for bilingual programs to adopt primary language materials for students when implementing the CCSS as well as primary language content assessments in mathematics and language arts.

In addition to primary language materials, the group states that supplementary materials need to be provided for ELLs that focus on oral and written language. They call for meaningful and well-designed professional development that focuses on such areas as scaffolding and differentiating instruction for ELLs, working with academic text, and developing language across the curriculum. A final thought espoused by Californians Together is that the CCSS will require a technology plan to address the digital divide that ELLs often face.

Call to Action

Many of the toolkit’s advocacy items are framed around biliteracy being a 21st century asset for all students and the development of dual language proficiency as a powerful pathway for ELLs. To that end, they call for stakeholders to “raise (their) voice” around all teachers of ELLs needing to: (1) support language development for all students, (2) change their pedagogy, and (3) use strategies called for by the CCSS.

Some advocacy points include the following:

  • Teachers need to receive professional development on ELLs and the CCSS
  • Policy frameworks that result in narrowing the curriculum and the over-use of remediation will need to change so that ELLs receive the full academic curriculum in order to develop their language.
  • Pre-service as well as in-service professional development will need to address strategies for providing ELLs access to the core content
  • Policymakers at the state and education leadership level will need to provide guidance calling for research-based ELL program models including bilingual alternative options that build the pathway toward academic language
  • ELD standards should be rolled out with a strategy that informs educators of the content of the standards and implications of those standards for programs, curriculum, and instruction.

Finally, the toolkit lists three questions for ELL advocates to ask during school and district conversations:

  1. What kind of guidance, support and resources will be available to help teachers unpack and integrate each standard to understand the language demands and to interpret the linguistic implications of the CCSS for instructing ELLs?
  2. What kind of professional development will our teachers get in how to support ELLs to engage with the kind of complex text and language called for in the CCSS?
  3. How soon will we be receiving information, professional development, and support regarding the (CA) ELD standards aligned to the CCSS?

How are you advocating on behalf of ELLs during the implementation of the CCSS in your school or district? What strategies have been effective for you?

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