ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
WHEREAS, bilingualism is an asset in our global economy, and it is our goal to improve the education of English language learners (ELLs); and
WHEREAS, 60 percent of all preK-12 educators nationwide currently have at least one ELL student in their classrooms, and this percentage is steadily increasing; and
WHEREAS, ELLs often have very low levels of academic achievement and educational attainment (only 57 percent of Latino ELLs graduate from high school), and ELLs often do not have access to rigorous college preparatory coursework or to high-quality career and technical education programs or appropriate guidance about postsecondary options; and
WHEREAS, school systems often place ELLs into English-only instruction before they are ready. Research indicates that it often takes ELLs up to seven years to become proficient and academically successful in a new language and frequently requires more than four years for ELLs to graduate from high school; and
WHEREAS, research on language acquisition supports native language literacy instruction as a helpful support for school language acquisition, we need more research—especially at the secondary school level—on how to raise the academic achievement and literacy rates of ELLs, ELLs with disabilities, and ELLs with limited or interrupted formal education; and
WHEREAS, current ELL testing practices often do not separate the assessment of content knowledge from the assessment of English language proficiency, and such practices often result in improper over- and under-referrals to special education; and
WHEREAS, poor assessment practices that do not use linguistically modified assessments and other appropriate testing accommodations for ELLs often result in the misidentification of schools and school systems and lead to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act sanctions; and
WHEREAS, teacher education programs often do not expose preservice teachers to coursework and clinical training to support ELL achievement; and
WHEREAS, there is a nationwide shortage of teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff (counselors, school psychologists, social workers, intake specialists, etc.) who have the requisite training/certification to work with ELLs, and it is common for ELLs to receive primary, direct instruction from paraprofessionals who are not under the direct supervision of a certified teacher; and
WHEREAS, there is often insufficient collaboration between the staff who work exclusively with ELLs and all other school staff; and
WHEREAS, most schools do not include ELLs in their comprehensive school reform plans, and they lack sufficient social service supports, parent education programs and outreach to families; and
WHEREAS, NCLB has insufficient funding, including those programs affecting ELLs:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates:
- Raise awareness about the urgency of closing the achievement gap for ELLs.
- Continue providing members and leaders with publications, professional development, and union-sponsored resources on effective instruction and on ways to increase parent and community outreach for ELLs such as Colorín Colorado.
- Call on the federal government to:
fund and disseminate the findings from longitudinal, independent, rigorous, scientifically based research and on what works to enable academic success and literacy for ELLs of all language backgrounds, ELLs with limited or interrupted formal education, and ELLs with disabilities, especially at the secondary school level;
allocate resources for comprehensive school reform plans that address how all school staff can collaborate to improve the academic performance of ELLs and that include better recruitment, retention, mentoring and induction programs of bilingual educators, teachers of ELLs and ELLs with disabilities, including a career pathway for paraprofessionals;
allocate funds for professional development for educators who have not worked with ELLs to provide appropriate instruction to emerging ELL populations;
devise assessment, accountability and school improvement systems that are fair, valid, reliable and appropriate;
Assess the impact of high-stakes assessment on the graduation rate of ELLs;
assure that high school accountability systems permit late-entry ELLs more than the standard four years to graduate from high school; and
adopt the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act or similar legislation that would allow undocumented students who fulfill the requisite criteria of the DREAM Act—as referred to in AFT’s resolution of support adopted in 2005—to enroll in college and seek conditional residency status.
- Call on schools of education to incorporate courses and experiences that prepare teachers to meet the instructional needs of ELLs.
- Support the implementation of research-based instructional models for ELLs such as dual immersion, ESL and other programs that include:
a school culture of high expectations for all students;
prescreening and ongoing assessment programs that determine students’ levels of English language proficiency separate from students’ content knowledge and that have the appropriate tools to distinguish between lack of linguistic abilities in English and learning disabilities;
reading instruction that emphasizes phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary-building and comprehension activities connected to meaningful literacy and writing instruction;
frequent teacher-led, structured opportunities for ELLs to discuss topics that are directly relevant to their lives and for them to interact in the classroom with native English speakers; and
native language instruction, where appropriate, to facilitate English language acquisition and content knowledge, delivered by teachers who are certified in the requisite content area(s) and paraprofessionals who work under the direct supervision of a teacher.