Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advocating for EL Success with Common Core Standards

Diane Staehr Fenner has an excellent two-part blog post about our role as educators in advocating for the success of EL's within a Common Core framework.  Check out the full text here.  She rightly points out that many people are looking at Common Core assessments and freaking out a bit (my words) that ELs won't be able to be successful on the exams with higher standards.  Many ESL and Bilingual teachers want to hit their heads in frustration, shout "DUH!" in big letters and point out that quality instruction and support for ELs has been lacking for YEARS and the new test is not the problem. Diane goes on to provide guidance on starting within your "sphere of influence" - realistically - who can you collaborate with to start changing instruction and systemic practices to increase EL academic achievement?

Unfortunately, in my experience as an ESL teacher, this was a pretty small sphere.  Sympathetic and professional classroom teachers were a good bet, but administration was often looking for "compliance" rather than actual change.  The unspoken question was, "What is the least amount of instructional disruption and cost we can commit to while still seeing results for ELs?"  This hidden agenda often resulted in more "interventions" because, "after all, ELs need to build reading skills too and that's language."  Or, it resulted in collaborative teaching models where the ESL teacher becomes more of a paraprofessional supporting content than a teacher of language.  So the reality of the unspoken question is that there has rarely been a big jump in success for ELs because we've always been trying to find the lowest common denominator and good-hearted, dedicated teachers have had to carry the burden of "finding a way" to address language instruction for ELs.  What if the question were changed to (and spoken), "What do EL students need instructionally to succeed and what can our system (admin, teachers, paraprofessionals) realistically commit to in order to make it happen?"  I believe if an educational team is willing to honestly address this question, then they will benefit from the "EL Equity Audit" tool Diane shares in her post.  In fact, I know there have been sites that have really investigated this question and developed successful models to support their ELs.  If you have been fortunate enough to work in one - I'd love to hear about it.  How did you get there?  How do you get buy in?  How did you decide what was right for your educational system?  

In the meantime, check out Diane's blog and keep advocating for high standards for ELs - the students have the ability, even if we lack the capacity!

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