New York and the CCSS for ELLs: What Happened Over Summer Vacation

Cayuga Lake, NYIn my 2013 school year kickoff blog post, I’d like to share some information about several initiatives taking place on the Common Core for ELLs in New York State. It just so happens that I’m a Central New York native (where I grew up on a dairy farm) and also spent a few weeks in the Finger Lakes region over the summer, so NY is very much on my radar screen at the moment.

New York has more than 315,000 ELLs in its public schools and is one of the states that stands out to me for thinking through issues of how ELLs can better access the new standards. For example, in a previous post, Angelica Infante described how New York City schools changed the way they implemented PD on the CCSS for ELLs. In addition, NY is working on two sets of sample language progressions for ELLs called New Language Arts Progressions and Home Language Arts Progressions for every NY State Common Core Learning Standard in all grades.

In this post, I’ll give you some information about one NY State group’s realities teaching the CCSS to ELLs, highlight how ELLs fared on the new CCSS-based assessments in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, tell you about a NY ELL curriculum scaffolding initiative, and close with news of a project with teachers in Poughkeepsie, NY. Even if you don’t teach ELLs in NY, I hope you’ll find something in this post that’s relevant to your context.

A Reality Check from the Northern Regional ESL Collective

Northern Regional ESL Collective Members I had the pleasure of meeting with several dedicated teachers and administrators from the Northern Regional ESL Collective in Skaneateles, NY in July. This grassroots learning community represents ESL educators from around the Central and Northern NY region, including the Syracuse, Watertown, and Oswego areas. The group ranges from itinerant ESL teachers at districts with low incidence ELL populations to teachers with more than 80 ELLs in their caseload at one school. The collective detailed some of their successes and challenges from a region of the state that is unique in many aspects and whose population of ELLs tends to differ from that of the New York City area. For example, Ithaca is both home to Cornell University, enrolling many ELLs from highly educated families and at the same time is also a refugee center, educating many students who have experienced interrupted education. In addition to being home to many refugees, this region of the state also educates ELLs whose families have left Amish communities as well as migrant students.

Diane Garafolo, a member and consultant to the collective, shared some CCSS challenges she has seen teachers and administrators face through her work in that area of the state. She says that the concept of using the same text but providing scaffolding for ELLs (not just easier texts in isolation) is challenging for many.  Also, texts that correlate to the Common Core Curriculum are not yet available in many local schools.  Some schools are being advised to hold off on buying new materials, and in many cases those materials simply haven’t been published yet.  In addition, some ESL and general education teachers feel that they do not have time to gather scaffolding materials – if they are available at all in schools. Ms. Garafolo also reports that past local efforts to train general education teachers in scaffolding for ELLs have not always been successful and have not always been seen as a priority in rural schools with low numbers of ESL students. Finally, she said that some ESL teachers with large numbers of ELLs tend to feel overwhelmed with not clearly understanding what they are expected to teach coupled with not having the required corresponding materials to foster their students’ success.

New York Test Scores

In spring 2013, New York State implemented its first content tests in ELA and mathematics that were aligned to the Common Core. The scores were recently released. The state had expected students’ scores to drop, and drop they did. In ELA, statewide proficiency scores for all students decreased from 55.1% on the non-Common-Core-aligned exams from the 2011-12 school year to 31.1% on the new CCSS-aligned assessments. In math, the proficiency rates dropped from 64.8% to 31% statewide. For ELLs in particular, ELA proficient rates went from 11.7% to 3.2%. In Math, ELLs’ proficient rates sank from 34.4% to 9.8%.

A recent blog post by Education Week’s Lesli Maxwell provides some analysis of these figures. The low numbers of ELLs demonstrating what they know and can do on these assessments speaks to the need for high quality curriculum and professional development for all ELLs and their teachers. These test scores attest to the notion that ELLs are everyone’s kids, and educators must prioritize all their students’ needs, even if there are low numbers of them in a school or district.

NYSED Curriculum Scaffolding for ELLs

In order to address the need for high quality ELA and Math curricula that teachers can use with ELLs, the American Institutes for Research has just begun a year-long project led by Dr. Diane August to scaffold all NY State Common Core curricular units in ELA and mathematics in grades P-12. (Full disclosure: my small business has partnered with AIR to support this work.) Five vendors – four in ELA and one in mathematics – are in the process of producing curriculum modules for all students in grades P-12, many of which can be found on the engageNY website. The AIR team is currently reviewing curricular modules, providing feedback on scaffolding the curricular units for ELLs, creating prototypes of effective curricular materials and formative assessments for ELLs, providing feedback on professional development materials, and creating resource guides for teachers of ELLs in ELA and Mathematics. They’re adapting the EQuiP (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products) rubrics to better define effective scaffolds for ELLs across content areas and evaluate curriculum that has already been developed for general education students.

Poughkeepsie Project

Providing lessons and strategies on the Common Core to teachers who work with students who are learning English is a priority for the American Federation of Teachers. In Poughkeepsie, a community with a growing ELL enrollment, middle and high school teachers will team up with national expert Diane August to write and videotape model lessons for this key population. This work is sponsored by the AFT Innovation Fund and will be featured on the Common Core section of Colorín Colorado. A previous grant to the Albuquerque Teachers Federation from the AFT Innovation Fund produced materials for students in grades 1, 4, and 8 that are now on the site.

What is your state doing to be inclusive of ELLs in implementing the Common Core? Please comment and let me know!  As always, I’ll keep you in the loop when any groups I mentioned in this post release materials that teachers can use with their ELLs.

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