Which school do you want to support?
What kind of mastery of the English language do high school graduates need if they are going to be successful in college, career, and life?
That question was the starting point for the development of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy.
The standards define grade-by-grade expectations for four broad areas of English language readiness: reading, writing, "speaking and listening," and the use of language. They also describe a set of "capacities" that students need to exhibit with increasing "fullness and regularity" (see below).
The Common Core English Language Arts Capacities
|They demonstrate independence.|
|They build strong content knowledge.|
|They respond to the varying demands of audience, |
task, purpose, and discipline.
|They comprehend as well as critique.|
|They value evidence.|
|They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.|
|They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.|
The standards establish expectations that are broader than English class, as their official title indicates: The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects set requirements for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.
From about 6th grade on, teachers in history, science, and other subjects help students develop and use their literacy skills through practice in the specific content areas. The standards don’t say a student has to take physics, for example. But if a student does take physics then the teacher needs to supplement content information with instruction on how to read the textbook, write about the subject, and so on.
To provide guidance to school districts and curriculum developers, the state officially adopts a "curriculum framework" that sets out expectations for textbooks and other instructional materials aligned to the standards. In the past, the state also adopted specific materials and earmarked funds for their purchase.
In the past, school districts could only purchase books that were approved by the State Board of Education. In 2013, California removed this requirement. As part of the movement toward more local control, school districts have the authority to certify that materials align with the standards and select materials on their own.
In California, more than 40% of public school children speak a language other than English as their “first” language. In education-speak, these students are called “English Learners”
In California, more than 40% of public school children speak a language other than English as their “first” language. In education-speak, these students are called “English Learners” (EL) or “English Language Learners” (ELL). For many years the state of California used the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to gauge students' proficiency in English. After an initial assessment, students are tested annually to evaluate their progress. When a student scores high enough, teachers and parents may reclassify him or her as fluent. The state is transitioning from CELDT to a new test, the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC).
If your school has more than twenty English Learners, it is required by law to set up an English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC). This committee's purpose is to advise your school's leadership, particularly when it comes to determining the goals expressed in your school's Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), which must include goals regarding school attendance.
Your school district is required to have a similar district-level committee (DELAC) to advise the district's school board on programs and services for English learners. This advice is meant to include input on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). These committees may be particularly important if your district is expanding programs for bilingual education based on the passage of Proposition 58.
English Learning in California was a focus area of the 2018 Getting Down to Facts II studies. Unfortunately, the study was severely hampered by the limitations of California's education data systems. Among the indirect findings, the research suggests that English Learners are probably more likely than other California students to be taught by early career teachers. In their conclusion, the authors argue for more clarity:
"The state should be concerned if new teachers, who are already struggling with so much, are particularly underprepared to teach ELs. Ensuring that novice teachers are adequately prepared with the specialized skills, knowledge and dispositions to teach ELs is of paramount importance to a state that concentrates one-quarter of all ELs in the nation — an extremely vulnerable and at-risk population by any measure."
If your school district has a pattern of assigning inexperienced teachers to schools with high concentrations of English Learners, this would be an appropriate topic for discussion at the ELAC and DLAC level. School districts are obligated to provide cost-free training to members of ELACs and DELACs. (Ahem... May we point out that Ed100 is available in English and Spanish? If your ELAC members aren't aware of Ed100, please drop them a note!)
In November 2012, the State Board of Education adopted a set of English Language Development standards to help guide instruction for English learners.
California's English Learner Roadmap, created in 2017, sets out a path for improving instruction for English language learners. In 2018, research conducted for the Getting Down to Facts II project suggested a to-do list that includes stronger investment in programs to prepare bilingual teachers and improved access to preschool for English learners.
Unsurprisingly, political considerations electrify discussion of these matters. In 1998, voters passed Proposition 227, which required that nearly all California public school instruction (except foreign language classes) be conducted in English. But times change. In 2016, voters took another look at the issue and overwhelmingly passed Proposition 58. The law repealed the restrictions on bilingual education, allowing schools to choose how to teach English learners, whether in English–only, bilingual, or other types of programs.
This policy shift is reflected in Global California 2030, an initiative of the California Department of Education to embraces the multiple languages of California’s students. In describing the goals of the program, the CDE declares that "By 2030, we want half of all K–12 students to participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages, either through a class, a program, or an experience."
Ed100 Lesson 6.16 provides research on the importance of biliteracy skills, and on the California State Seal of Biliteracy).
English teachers lack nothing when it comes to passion for their work. A prolonged disagreement about how best to teach elementary English once earned such explosive headlines that it was dubbed "the reading wars." The debate centered on whether students should learn to sound out words phonetically (the "phonetics" camp) or to recognize them as distinct words (the "whole language" camp). This complex debate no longer seems to spark much emotion; learning materials evolved to include elements of both approaches.
Literacy starts at home. The earlier the better. By age 3, children from high-income families are exposed to many more words than children from families on welfare. Research now indicates that reading to children, more than talking, builds greater literacy skills. It makes sense: The language in books is usually more enriching than everyday speech.
Schools and parent groups can use this research to support literacy at home. For example, Reading Rockets and Colorin Colorado provide downloadable fliers in many languages. The California State PTA provides grade level guides to help parents understand Common Core literacy standards and see if their children are on track.
Next we"ll look at fluency of a different sort: science, technology, engineering, and math, known in edu-lingo as the "STEM" subjects.
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