CCSS/ELL Themes I'm Seeing

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate three roundtable discussions on the implementation of the CCSS for ELLs in Miami, Florida. These conversations took place at the ninth National Summit on Hispanic Education organized by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS).

Not surprisingly, each of these sessions was well attended by a range of stakeholders in ELL education from across the country, including ELL teachers, principals, district ESL directors, and superintendents. These roundtable participants represented the range of contexts for ELL instruction that we find across the nation, spanning the continuum from districts that have a few ELLs to large urban school districts that educate a high number of ELLs. During the open-ended roundtable sessions, participants shared their challenges in implementing the CCSS for ELLs in their contexts and also highlighted what strides they were making toward supporting ELLs and their teachers in this endeavor.

I’d like to share some of the overarching themes that arose over the course of the discussions, which I will link back to in future blog posts. I’ll start with challenges I heard most about and will then focus on three areas in which these educators are keeping ELLs at the center of discussions around the CCSS.


  • An educator from the Southeast remarked that his challenge lies in knowing where ELLs “fit” in the CCSS implementation and shared that resources are scattered. When resources are available, he said that teachers either don’t know they exist or don’t know how to use them.
  • An educator shared that in his state, there is some resentment about teaching ELLs due to the ELL endorsement requirement for all teachers.
  • It was mentioned that content area teachers tend to see themselves as content teachers, not language teachers.
  • Another person at the district level commented that teachers may have the desire to work with ELLs but may not have the tools to do so and also added that coaching is costly.
  • An administrator from the West Coast commented that ELLs at the secondary level in particular need to learn how to collaborate in order to participate successfully in CCSS-based instruction.
  • One district representative mentioned her district needs to provide training to teachers on English language development standards aligned to the CCSS because the state isn’t providing this level of support.

Materials for Teachers

The roundtable participants mentioned this area as one in which they needed much more information. However, many ELL stakeholders had already begun creating CCSS-based materials for teachers to use. Those who had started creating materials expressed a desire to share what they already had created with others in the field.

  • A representative from New Jersey shared that their state department of education had scaffolded the state’s English Language Arts model curriculum for ELLs. CCSS at each grade level are organized into five units, and each unit culminates with formative assessments. Each unit also contains targeted student learning objectives or SLOs (see a sample here) that define what ELLs need to know and be able to do within the unit, which varies with ELLs’ level of English language proficiency (ELP). The supportive framework delineates what ELLs can do within each SLO as well as which teacher supports are appropriate for each level of ELP so that ELLs can achieve the objectives. In mathematics, the state has translated some units’ formative assessments into Spanish.
  • An ESL director from the West Coast said his district was writing and piloting sample units scaffolded for ELLs in elementary school classrooms using annotated lesson plans. He shared that explicit strategies piloted in secondary classrooms for accessing the CCSS weren’t working as expected for these ELLs to construct meaning and that professional development is needed in this area.
  • An ELL teacher in Washington State – a career switcher who formerly worked in the technology industry - sees technology as a “hook” to get ELLs interested in participating in CCSS-based instruction. He is currently working on putting CCSS-based lessons online.
  • Although they weren’t able to attend a roundtable session, the Understanding Language initiative presented a fascinating five-lesson unit titled “Persuasion Across Time and Space: Analyzing and Producing Persuasive Texts.” The CCSS-based unit is geared toward intermediate level ELLs at the eighth grade. I will update you when this unit is posted on their website and will link to it in this blog.

Professional Development

  • One district-level ESL director mentioned how her district used their teacher evaluation framework as a basis for PD. Teachers self-selected their own PD areas related to the CCSS to develop further. These teachers were provided release time to observe each other’s practice related to the CCSS and use PD videos to support their growth as educators. This director shared that this approach to PD was overwhelmingly successful, as teachers had a voice in the areas they chose to develop in their own practice.
  • Los Angeles Unified School District has developed PD modules for all teachers on the basic structure of the CCSS focusing on the major shifts of the CCSS in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics, including close reading. LAUSD is also piloting formative assessments and units for all students. Lily Wong Fillmore is providing more support to teachers of ELLs by deconstructing texts and scaffolding lessons for ELLs. I’ll post these resources as they become available.

Formative Assessment

  • As mentioned here earlier, LAUSD and New Jersey representatives described how they are piloting formative assessments for all students, including ELLs. These assessments will be given periodically throughout the school year, and their results are intended to inform instruction.
  • The Denver Public School system is also developing formative assessments, as well as pacing scope and sequence. They are creating teacher-built, CCSS-based formative assessments that will be administered to all students every six weeks. They will allow accommodations on these formative assessments for ELLs.

I’m sure there are many more initiatives taking place related to supporting ELLs in achieving the CCSS, and I’d like to hear about them. Please drop me a line at [email protected]. What is your school, district, or state doing to create materials and formative assessments based on the CCSS that teachers can use with their ELLs? What kind of professional development do you have in place in terms of addressing ELLs’ challenges with the CCSS? What is your role in this process? What other kinds of support do you need? Thank you for taking part in this collaborative conversation.

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Hello Diane, and thank you for this comprehensive update. Under the heading of "Challenges" I was surprised not to find any discussion of testing and accountability as it pertains to ELLs and the CCSS.

NCLB shone an overdue light on achievement for ELLs, but the often-illogical AYP and AMAO demands made on schools and teachers have been widely criticized. Under the new waiver provisions and RTTT, student test scores will now play a yet-to-be-determined role in teacher evaluation as well. The AFT, a supporter of this blog, is playing an important part in the process of developing new models for teacher evaluation which include student test scores as one measure of teacher performance.

What discussion do you see out there about how this will work for teachers of ELLs under the new CCSS? I'm thinking of the content-area teachers with ELLs in their classrooms as well as the teachers of English language development classes (called ELD in my state).

I'm an ELD teacher of middle school ELLs, and their teachers in core classes struggle to help them. We've had budget cuts and some classes number over 50 in my district. I am devoted to my students who, in many cases, have suffered poverty, war and dislocation. They are learning, but few are at grade-level in core subjects. Will their teachers be penalized by having them in their classes?

I know that in a logical world the answer would be no, but like many teachers, I am wary, and weary, of top-down dictates that are out-of-touch with reality. I applaud the Common Core movement and high standards. Let's just please get it right this time. Thanks again, Diane, for hosting this important discussion.

Page, Middle School ESL Teacher

Hi Page,

Thanks for your note. There are indeed discussions taking place around how teacher evaluation for all teachers who work with ELLs will look with the implementation of the CCSS. You're right - AFT is doing some notable work in this area. AFT has been working through support from a multi-year Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to develop pilot teacher evaluation systems in 5 districts in New York and 5 in Rhode Island that are inclusive of ELLs as well as students with disabilities. I've been fortunate to have been involved with the project since it began two years ago, and it offers great promise as an example of how we could move the field forward. I'm attending a conference in teacher evaluation in late November in RI and will post about what I learn that's CCSS/ELL related. Thank you for following the blog, Page.


Hi Diane,
Thank you so much for this very informative blog. It's crucial for teachers to have ownership of the CCSS for ELLs. Without their active support, the initiative will not be as successful. As expressed by Page, teachers are understandably skeptical of programs that are top down and where they are considered an afterthought. Most teachers understand the potential the CCSS initiative has for improving outcomes for ELLs and for closing the achievement gap. But they also need the right tools, And they need to be engaged as equal partners. Their experience can contribute immensely to the knowledge base we need in order to improve the educational outcomes of ELLs.
Such an effort requires our collective knowledge, experience, and skills. I look forward to reading more comments on this!
Rosa Aronson
TESOL International Association

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