Standards That Impact English Language Learners

    By  Diane Staehr FennerJohn Segota

    In this article written for Colorín Colorado, Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner and John Segota discuss the ways in which language proficiency and teaching standards can help shape the instruction of English language learners.

    They also discuss the relationship between these different sets of standards and their connection to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

     Why Standards Matter

    In a standards-based curriculum, all students — particularly English language learners (ELLs) — face demanding academic and cognitive requirements across content areas and grade levels. To fully and successfully participate in school, ELLs must simultaneously acquire English language proficiency (ELP) and achieve academically across content areas. In fact, two kinds of language proficiency are necessary for school success: the social and intercultural competence of using English in the classroom, and the academic language necessary to access the content areas such as English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.

    Standards provide a tool for defining the language as well as the content that ELLs are expected to achieve. In order for ELLs to succeed academically in US schools, both ELP standards and professional teaching standards for English as a second language (ESL) teachers are needed to ensure achievement for ELLs.

    ELP Standards

    English language proficiency standards act as a starting point for identifying the language that ELLs must develop to successfully access and negotiate content in and beyond the classroom. ELP standards do not stand alone, but provide the bridge to the content-area standards expected of all students in U.S. classrooms. Although academic content-area standards mandate high levels of achievement in content learning for all students, they do not provide educators strategies needed to assist English language learners because they assume student proficiency in and ability to use English to engage with content. ELP standards are therefore used in conjunction with content-area standards to provide guideposts for educators in helping English language learners develop the academic language proficiency in English necessary to reach the high levels of achievement outlined for all students.

    The first national ELP standards in the U.S. were published by TESOL International Association in 1997. Entitled ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students, these standards were the first to promote a vision of effective education for the growing population of English language learners in the U.S. With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB), the federal government recognized the need for language standards to assist English language learners in developing English proficiency, and thus mandated for the first time that each state develop ELP standards for their English language learners. As a result, each U.S. state -either on their own or within different state consortia — developed ELP standards for use within their school systems. The standards developed by the World Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) Consortia are now used in 27 states, and were adapted and augmented by TESOL International Association in the revision of its own standards in 2006.