Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners: Implications for Federal Policy A Forum.

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1 AYPF Forum Brief: Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners 11/19/10 1 Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners: Implications for Federal Policy A Forum November 19, 2010 Background Nearly every state has seen rapid increases in the enrollment of students speaking languages other than English. The growing cultural and linguistic diversity of both urban and rural school systems demands that educators and policymakers consider comprehensive approaches to ensuring that all students are prepared for college and careers. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 greatly increased the accountability of state and local education agencies for the education of English Language Learners (ELLs). Despite this increase in federal accountability, school systems have struggled to meet the educational needs of this growing population. Providing rigorous, high-quality instruction for ELLs in the secondary grades proves particularly challenging, as more complex academic language is required to access the core curriculum, and ELL dropout rates are high. Adolescent ELLs are characterized by diverse strengths and needs, as this group includes recent immigrants, students with interrupted formal education, long-term ELLs, and ELLs with disabilities. This forum shared examples of school systems and networks that are working against these trends and helping English Language Learners achieve in high school. The forum also highlighted research-supported best practices for supporting high school ELLs and the explored implications for federal policy. Laura Rodriguez, Deputy Chancellor of the Division for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners for the New York City Department of Education, described New York City s systemic approach to building district-level and school-level capacity to improve learning outcomes for ELLs. New York City is the largest school district in the nation, with 1.2 million students. Of this population, 14% (over 150,000 students) are ELLs. Most ELLs (53%) are in elementary school; the percentage of ELLs decreases in middle school (18%), and then rises again in high school (28%). About half of New York City s ELL students were born in the US, and Spanish is the most common language spoken. Rodriguez spoke of the importance of building a system that meets each student s needs at the point where they arrive in the New York City public schools. This includes students who are newcomers, long-term ELLs, students with interrupted formal education (SIFE), students with disabilities who are ELLs, and former ELLs. The New York City Department of Education acknowledges that students are coming into the system with prior education, knowledge, and strengths, so schools have to leverage this potential and provide appropriate programs. Rodriguez said that the challenge is to not underestimate what ELLs know but to accelerate what they know.

2 AYPF Forum Brief: Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners 11/19/10 2 In 2003 under Chancellor Joel Klein, New York City Public Schools ushered in the Children First reforms, which included a major structural change that replaced a previously bifurcated system with a unified education system in which regional superintendents were responsible for all the students in grades K-12. This change brought a coherence and cohesiveness to ELL education, as the system sought to align all programs for ELLs with the comprehensive core curriculum. Other reforms were instituted to better serve ELLs, including: Added instructional support specialists in English as a Second Language or bilingual education in each networked team to build school and network capacity; Increased school-level accountability for ELL students outcomes, which required school leaders to base programming on the actual demographics and needs of their ELLs; The adoption of language allocation guidelines for all programs for ELLs; and Improved communication with ELLs families by ensuring that all schools had Parent Coordinators that were capable of working with immigrant families. Since 2005, New York City has seen a substantial increase ELL graduation rates (26.5% in 2005 to 39.7% in 2009), and a decrease in ELL dropout rates (30.6% in 2005 to 19.4% in 2009), though there is still a long way to go to close the gap between ELL students and their Englishproficient peers. Rodriguez believes that positive changes stem from improved programs for ELLs, which benefit from a greater focus on capacity-building, accountability, ownership, and leadership at the school level. Claire Sylvan, Executive Director of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, described the Internationals model of small schools for recent immigrant students. These schools strive to provide recent immigrant ELLs with a quality high school education that prepares them for college, careers, and full participation in a democratic society. Since the first International High School opened in 1985 with 60 students, the model has served over 8,000 students. The network now includes 12 schools in New York City and two in the San Francisco Bay Area. Internationals model relies on building a close-knit, supportive, and academically rigorous community of learners. Students learn English and develop their own native language in an environment of high expectations where the coursework is geared for the college-going student. All students have been in the country for four years or less when they are admitted, and approximately 85% qualify for free or reduced price lunch. In addition to the demands of learning English, students face a variety of complex home issues: 70% have been separated from one or both parents for some period of time during the immigration transition process. The Internationals approach to educating immigrant youth is based on five core principles: 1. Heterogeneity and collaboration. Classes are heterogeneous and schools do not separate students based on skills, native language or literacy level. Collaborative structures and diversity are believed to optimize the learning of all students. 2. Experiential learning. Students engage in internships, community service, and entrepreneurship opportunities to expand learning beyond the school s walls, in order to motivate adolescents and enhance their capacity to successfully participate in society.

3 AYPF Forum Brief: Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners 11/19/ Language and content integration. Language is learned in a hands-on, interdisciplinary setting, as opposed to abstract language lessons; all faculty are expected to teach content and simultaneously support language development. 4. Localized autonomy and responsibility. Schools within the network operate with considerable autonomy, and faculty contribute to shared decision-making structures. 5. One learning model for all. Faculty and students participate in similar collaborative learning and work structures to support one another, so that teacher learning mirrors the students learning process. Sylvan offered several policy recommendations that could further support ELL students achievement and build on the best practices of the Internationals model: Language and content should be integrated throughout the school day, rather than teaching them in isolation or approaching them as discrete subjects. Policies should build the capacity of all educators to support language development. High-quality professional development can provide all teachers with the tools to support ELLs, without requiring dual certification for all educators working with ELLs. Organizational structures, such as teacher teams and student schedules, could foster greater collaboration between content teachers and language development specialists. Federal accountability requirements should recognize five- and six-year graduation rates for immigrant newcomer and SIFE students. Accountability measures should include performance assessments and multiple measures to assess what ELLs know, rather than relying only on high-stakes tests designed for native speakers. Internationals has seen high graduation rates and low dropout rates across its network. In 2009, 68% of Internationals students graduated on time, compared to 40% of New York City public schools ELLs. In the same year, 8% of Internationals students dropped out, compared to 19% of New York City ELLs. Deborah Short, Director of Academic Language Research and Training, and Senior Research Associate for the Center for Applied Linguistics described research findings on what works with high school ELLs across the US, and discussed resulting policy implications. Short summarized the many challenges that ELLs face in school. They do double the work compared to non-ell students, in that they have to work to become proficient in English while also learning grade-level content knowledge. Adolescent ELLs have limited time to complete graduation requirements and reach the level of proficiency to pass state assessments. Schools are under pressure to maintain their four-year graduation rates, and many ELLs drop out because they can t meet this bar and some schools won t accept older students who may not meet this timeline. Long-term ELLs who have grown up in U.S. schools often lack strong literacy skills in any language, and many of these students never receive interventions that work for them. Also, ELLs often have limited postsecondary options due to poverty or immigration status. Finally, ELLs face many pressures outside of school, including the stress of reuniting with family members, caring for younger siblings, working, and living in transnational families that migrate back and forth between the U.S. and their countries of origin.

4 AYPF Forum Brief: Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners 11/19/10 4 Through Short s research in the Center for Applied Linguistics Double the Work report (2007) and the more recent Newcomer Research Project, she has found that there are several common strategies that successful high schools are using to support ELLs, including: Expanding the school day and year to reflect the extra time needed to learn English; Using an extended graduation pathway that may take five or six years, instead of four; Ensuring the staff commitment and teacher capacity to support academic language development; Using disaggregated data to monitor ELLs progress over time, including the performance of exited ELLs; Offering flexible scheduling and course design; and Providing postsecondary planning, transition support, and social networks to support ELLs futures beyond high school. Short also found that several factors can negatively affect ELL programs, including changes in administration, changes in testing and graduation requirements, pressure to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets under NCLB, particularly for ELLs at beginning English proficiency levels, and limited resources. The Double the Work report offered recommendations for federal policy, and many of these guidelines have been echoed by the Working Group on ELL Policy s recently released Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA). Short outlined these policy recommendations, which included the following: Require each state to develop uniform criteria to identify and assess ELLs within the state, at minimum, and across states to the extent possible. Monitor ELL performance by proficiency level and exit status. Incorporate time into ESEA accountability provisions for English language proficiency, and require states to establish expected timeframes for the development of language proficiency. Ensure that state assessments used to measure content achievement are valid for ELLs. Design appropriate and flexible program options, including bilingual programs and native language assessments. Advance teachers capacity for improving academic literacy in ELLs, particularly for content teachers of ELLs. Develop a strong and coherent research agenda on programs and practices to enhance adolescent ELLs language and content development. Conclusion As the ELL population in America continues to grow, it is imperative that policymakers and educators recognize the distinct needs of this population. They can learn from research-supported strategies that are raising the outcomes of adolescent ELLs in exemplary schools and districts. The reauthorization of ESEA will provide an opportunity to adjust current policies and create new supports that will help ELLs graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or a career. In particular, policies that build the capacity of educators and school systems to meet ELL needs, adjust the timeline for ELL learning and achievement, and offer flexibility in learning would further support ELLs, educators and schools.

5 AYPF Forum Brief: Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners 11/19/10 5 Question and Answer A participant inquired about the professional development provided to educators, as well as the general research base on effective professional development for teachers of ELLs. Sylvan responded that at Internationals, all the professional development is geared toward enabling teachers to work with a heterogeneous group that will allow different points of entry and multiple forms of assessment. The only areas in which the professional development is targeted to specific student subgroups are around instruction for SIFE students and students with special needs. Rodriguez added that New York City has offered the WestEd professional development model Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) to teams of school principals and teachers, to focus on integrating language support and content instruction. Also, Short added that research has demonstrated that professional development should be sustained and continuous, and should include school leaders and administrators. Ongoing research on professional development for teachers of ELLs attempts to evaluate effectiveness through observations of changes in teaching practices as well as improvements in student achievement. A question was asked of Sylvan about the possibility of Internationals creating an assessment geared toward ELLs that corresponds with their program model. Sylvan responded that there is a need for such an assessment, but in the meantime all NYC Internationals schools participate in a consortium of schools using a performance-based assessment (PBA) system that has been validated by researchers and includes s a portfolio with elements such as a literary essay and research paper that students have to defend. Three of the schools are part of the consortium waiver that allows use of the PBA system for graduation, coupled with an English Language Arts Regents exam. Short added that it is key that federal policy foster an environment in which states have an incentive to provide assessments that are proven to be valid and reliable for ELLs. In response to a question about how Internationals deals with critiques of newcomer programs that segregate ELLs from native English speakers for more than a year, Sylvan responded that the answer has to do with choice. In all of the school districts implementing the Internationals model, immigrant students have the choice to enter such a program, but they cannot be placed into an Internationals school against their will. She added that although all Internationals students are immigrants, the schools often offer a greater diversity of nationalities, races, and languages than many other traditional public schools. Rodriguez added that admissions policies in New York City allow any student to apply to any school. Short explained that in CAL s national study of middle and high school newcomer programs, they found that all programs are by-choice and most last only for one year or one year plus summer. A participant inquired about the panel s thoughts on the pressures on immigrant students coming into the school systems at age 18 who will not be able to graduate with other students their age. Rodriguez responded that New York City educates students up to 21 years of age. While such students have less time and face more challenges, there is a broad range of choices and counseling support offered to ELLs. Short commented that New York is not alone in this policy, and that some states allow students to enter the public school system up to 23 years of age, with some alternative schools being geared toward older students.

6 AYPF Forum Brief: Strategies to Improve Outcomes for High School English Language Learners 11/19/10 6 A question was asked about the ways the Internationals schools support the development of their students first languages. Sylvan noted that school projects are student-driven, ELLs do research in their own language, and bilingual work is part of the curriculum, for example in global studies. The schools try to present projects that foster English and native languages and focus on the students and their families as experts.

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