11/16/2012

Mastering Common Core standards in any language

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Nearly 400 people tuned in to the AFT's webinar on Common Core State Standards and English language learners, displaying the enormous energy that has been gathering over the implementation of the standards and, in particular, its intersection with teaching ELLs. The event was the second roundtable discussion hosted by the AFT.

During the 2 1/2-hour exchange, a panel of six national leaders in shaping Common Core standards and their implementation discussed the specific ways they are addressing the needs of English language learners as they move forward with outreach, assessment, professional development and resources. Panelists included Kenji Hakuta, one of the world's best-known academics on language, bilingualism and education at Stanford University; Magda Chia, a leading psychometrician with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium; Danielle Griswold, with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC); Chris Minnich and Carrie Heath Phillips with the Council of Chief State School Officers; and Lydia Breiseth with Colorín Colorado, the partnership project of the AFT and public broadcasting station WETA.

Hakuta started off by framing a shared concept: English language learners must simultaneously access the content of the Common Core curriculum and whatever second-language acquisition tools they need to understand it. "Those two prongs together, not sequentially, are really the underpinning of what we're trying to accomplish," said Hakuta.

Rather than limit students to vocabulary drills and grammar, the Common Core standards challenge students to engage in oral and written group work and interaction with teachers, and give them opportunities to explain and demonstrate knowledge using complex language. Implementing this new approach, said Hakuta, requires collaboration among all stakeholders: students, teachers, site and district leaders, state and federal leaders, pre-service and in-service providers, test-makers and publishers. Hakuta called for public dialogue about ELL strategies and successes, and urged policymakers and practitioners to focus on supporting instruction.

Smarter Balanced and PARCC representatives focused on assessments and how they will include ELLs. Among the issues they discussed were a need for a standardized definition of ELLs, standard accommodations (such as translation and pop-up glossaries in software), recognition of subgroups among ELLs, and the availability of resources—from trained educators to data access. Chia talked about the importance of teacher involvement in reviewing formative assessment practices, and the need to keep the standards transparent and state-led. Griswold described the need for universal design that will be accessible to all students, regardless of language or cultural background, and she discussed the effective use of technology for wide and accessible delivery of the standards, using supports such as highlighting, text enlargement and captions.

A new English Language Proficiency Development Framework was offered by the Council of Chief State School Officers, designed to share with all stakeholders the language practices ELLs need to engage the state standards (see CCSSO.org). The framework advocates that English language proficiency align with Common Core standards, and it is expected to serve as a guide for developing an English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century. This will evolve over a four-year timeframe.

A more classroom-based resource came from Colorín Colorado, which has become the most widely used online resource for ELL educators and families. Using "all kinds of channels," as Lydia Breiseth, Colorín Colorado's manager, put it, the website offers multimedia resources for professional development, parent outreach, district level implementation and lesson planning, with a teacher- and family-focused approach. There is a friendly blog to keep users updated, Common Core facts for parents (in English and Spanish), video interviews with policymakers and teachers involved in implementing Common Core standards in an ELL setting, teacher journals that share experience and ideas, and interactive elements and resources for teachers working to meet Common Core standards in schools.

A lively question-and-answer session wrapped up the event, suggesting that high interest will continue to propel thoughtful implementation of Common Core standards for English language learners so that all students can access their rich potential. A third roundtable is being planned.

Presentations, archived audio and other materials from this event can be accessed on the AFT website. [Virginia Myers]

November 16, 2012