Policy and Practice for Teacher Effectiveness

Contributed by:
In this report, we summarize key findings drawn from the literature on promising practices that all teachers can employ when working with ELLs. We also consider the degree to which that research is integrated into the preparation, certification, and evaluation of teachers as a means for improving educational outcomes for ELLs.
1. the associated press/Nati Harnik
Preparing All Teachers to Meet the
Needs of English Language Learners
Applying Research to Policy and Practice for Teacher Effectiveness
Jennifer F. Samson and Brian A. Collins April 2012
w w w.americanprogress.org
2. Preparing All Teachers to
Meet the Needs of English
Language Learners
Applying Research to Policy and Practice
for Teacher Effectiveness
Jennifer F. Samson and Brian A. Collins April 2012
3. Contents 1 Introduction and summary
4 Growing numbers of ELL students in the United States
8 Insufficient and inconsistent information for teachers
12 Ensuring all teachers are adequately prepared
to work with ELLs
20 Recommendations
23 About the authors
24 Endnotes
4. Introduction and summary
There is a sea change occurring in education across the country in the systematic
way that we consider what students should be learning and how teachers should
be evaluated. Recently, nearly all states have adopted and have begun to roll out
the Common Core Standards as the benchmark for what students nationwide
should know and be able to do at each grade level, K-12. Additionally, in an effort
to become eligible for federal funds under Race to the Top, many states have
altered their educational policies to match the priorities of the U.S. Department of
Education, which include high-stakes evaluation of teachers. Amidst these sweep-
ing changes in the enterprise of teaching and learning, English language learners,
or ELLs, are one subgroup of students that require special attention, particularly
because of their growing numbers and low-performance relative to their non-
ELL peers. For schools, improving academic outcomes for ELLs is a litmus test
for whether teachers are meeting their charge to truly leave no child behind. It is
precisely in these times of change that opportunities arise for implementing pur-
poseful teacher effectiveness initiatives that have promise for improving outcomes
among the nation’s least well-served students.
The recent increase in immigration accounts for rapid and substantial demo-
graphic changes in the United States’s school-aged population. An estimated 25
percent—one-in-four—children in America are from immigrant families and live
in households where a language other than English is spoken.1 This has significant
implications for schools and the current discourse about the role of teacher qual-
ity and effectiveness in improving educational outcomes. What is rarely discussed
in these debates, however, is what teacher quality means for different types of
students. The fact that the nation’s teachers are and will increasingly encounter
a diverse range of learners requires that every teacher has sufficient breadth and
depth of knowledge and range of skills to be able to meet the unique needs of all
students, including those who struggle with English. While it is true that there are
educational specialists for example, English as a second language and bilingual
teachers, who have expertise in supporting ELLs, many teachers do not. Yet the
reality is that most, if not all teachers have or can expect to have ELL students in
1 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
5. their classroom and therefore must be prepared to best support these children. In
many cases, a general education teacher who knows the content and pedagogy to
teach to the grade level standards will also need specific knowledge and skills to
help ELLs access the curricula.
While there are still many aspects of educating ELLs that remain contested—ser-
vice delivery models, native language versus English-only instruction—several
comprehensive sources from the research community have begun to identify To date, there has
critical knowledge and skills for teachers of ELLs. Recently, university research-
ers Kip Tellez and Hersh Waxman2 conducted a thorough review of the research been relatively
that highlights important considerations for English as a second language, or ESL,
and bilingual education teachers. Their review indicates that pre-service teacher little attention
education, recruitment and selection, in-service training, and teacher retention
are potential policy areas to make headway in improving teacher effectiveness. paid to the
While it is important to articulate standards, knowledge, and skills for ELL and
bilingual education teachers, it is equally critical to consider how best to prepare essential standards,
mainstream, or general education, teachers to work with English language learners
since they are increasingly likely to have such students in their class. To date, there knowledge, and
has been relatively little attention paid to the essential standards, knowledge, and
skills that general education teachers ought to possess in order to provide effective skills that general
instruction to ELLs placed in their classroom.3
education teachers
Drawing from the literature on what English as a second language and bilingual
teachers should know, we extrapolated foundational knowledge about ELLs ought to possess
that might serve general education teachers that have these students in their
classrooms. These include the importance of attending to oral language devel- in order to provide
opment, supporting academic language, and encouraging teachers’ cultural
sensitivity to the backgrounds of their students. We argue that these areas of effective instruction
knowledge be purposefully and explicitly integrated into the preparation, certi-
fication, evaluation, and development of all teachers in the interest of improving to ELLs placed in
outcomes for English language learners.
their classroom.
In this report we summarize key findings drawn from the literature on promising
practices that all teachers can employ when working with ELLs. We also consider
the degree to which that research is integrated into the preparation, certification,
and evaluation of teachers as a means for improving educational outcomes for
ELLs. Through a review of professional and state level standards for teacher-edu-
cation programs, state teacher-certification examinations, and teacher-observation
evaluation rubrics, we examine gaps in policy and practice pertaining to general
2 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
6. education teachers of ELLs. We argue that system-level changes must be made to
establish evidence-based practices among general education teachers of ELLs. By
comparing and contrasting five key states—California, Florida, Massachusetts,
New York, and Texas—that have large numbers of English language learners,
we consider the way in which the specific needs of ELLs are taken into account
in educational policies and school-level practices. Our specific aim is to identify
essential knowledge and skills that can be purposefully integrated into teacher-
development programs and initiatives. In order to improve teacher effectiveness
with ELL students we recommend that consistent and specific guidelines on the
oral language, academic language, and cultural needs of ELLs be addressed in:
• Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA
• Revisions to National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education or
NCATE Standards
• State regulations
• Teacher-preparation programs
• State certification exams
• Teacher-observation rubrics in performance evaluations
• Professional development linked to teacher evaluations
3 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
7. Growing numbers of ELL students
in the United States
Currently, more than one out of four of all children in the United States are from
immigrant families, and in most cases these children speak a language other
than English at home.4 In the decade between the 1997-98 and 2008-09 school
years, the number of English language learners in public schools increased by 51
percent while the general population of students grew by just 7 percent.5 Given
the increase in number of ELL students in the United States, many U.S. teach-
ers should expect to have ELLs in their classrooms. Therefore, it is essential that
schools accurately identify ELLs and understand their language proficiency in
English as well as their home language. Most states have a similar protocol to
determine whether or not a student is proficient in English when they enter
school (see sidebar). Under federal law, ELLs must be provided appropriate
English language development support services and be assessed annually until
they meet a state’s criteria for proficiency in English on specific language tests in
order to no longer be considered an English language learner.
Classroom instruction for ELLs varies depending upon state laws and the pro-
portion of ELLs in the district. Instruction can range from classrooms where
all students receive bilingual/dual-language instruction to structured/sheltered
English immersion classrooms to general education classrooms, where content
instruction from the mainstream teacher is supported by an ESL teacher working
with individual students. Unfortunately, ELLs often are not properly identified
or transition out of services prematurely and are placed in mainstream classroom
without additional language support. Given the importance of language develop-
ment for academic success, all classroom teachers with ELLs must understand the
principles and best practices of supporting their unique needs.
4 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
8. English language learner identification process
• The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (the reauthorized Elementary • By federal law, classroom instruction must be modified to meet the
and Secondary Education Act) requires all states to identify English needs of English language learners. Accommodations and instruc-
language learners, measure their English proficiency, and include tion practices vary depending upon state laws and the propor-
these students in state testing programs that assess academic skills. tion of ELLs in the district. ELL services range from bilingual/dual
language instruction, where the home language and English are
• Most states identify ELLs upon first enrollment in the school system. used, to structured/sheltered English immersion classrooms, where
An initial home language survey is typically administered (a few English is modified for ELLs, to mainstream classrooms, where ELLs
questions regarding home language use). For all children whose receive ESL support within the classroom (push-in ESL) or spend
home language is not English, an assessment of English language time in an ESL classroom (pull-out).
proficiency is conducted using a state approved standardized test,
for example, Language Assessment Battery-Revised (LAB-R), Cali- TABLE 1
fornia English Language Development Test (CELDT), and Language Total public school and English language learner, or ELL,
Assessment Scales-Oral (LAS-O). population in U.S. states with high proportion of ELLs
Total public school population Percentage
• Children who score below English proficiency levels determined 2009-2010 of ELLs
by each state are identified as ELLs and are entitled to appropriate California 6,263,438 28
services and instructional programs and funding until they demon- Florida 2,634,522 9
strate English proficiency on the states’ annual assessment. Massachusetts 957,053 5
New York 2,766,052 7
Texas 4,850,210 15
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, “Local Education Agency
Universe Survey”, 2009-10 Core of Common Data.
Competing Demands and Challenges in Schools
Unfortunately, the rapid growth in the ELL population has not been matched by suf-
ficient growth in teachers’ understanding of how to best educate these students.6 As
a result many districts across the country are buckling under the weight of having to
meet the needs of ELL students who are not demonstrating proficiency in academic
areas such as reading, writing, and math. English language learners pose unique chal-
lenges for educators because federal mandates under the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act, or ESEA, the nation’s main education law, require that all students
have access to the core curriculum and meet specific academic targets. In addi-
tion, ESEA requires that states measure and report English proficiency for all ELLs.
Today, schools face federal and state demands for improving student performance
with limited funding and inadequately prepared teachers.
5 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
9. Our report focuses on five states with large propor-
tions of English language learners: California, Florida, NAEP Achievement Levels
Massachusetts, New York, and Texas (see Table 1). National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP,
National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, achievement levels categorize student achievement as Ba-
results from 20097 (see Figure 1 and Figure 2) show that in sic, Proficient, and Advanced, using ranges of performance
California and New York only a small proportion of ELLs established for each grade. (A fourth category, Below
are able to achieve at or above basic level in reading in the Basic, is also reported.) Achievement levels are used
fourth-grade (25 percent and 29 percent respectively) and to report results in terms of a set of standards for what
students should know and be able to do. Basic denotes
obviously perform far below proficient or grade level. The
partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that
other states fare slightly better, with Florida having the
are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. Profi-
highest percentage of fourth-grade ELL students perform- cient represents solid academic performance. Advanced
ing at basic or above in reading. Unfortunately, perfor- represents superior performance. Achievement levels
mance does not seem to improve for older ELL students are cumulative; therefore, student performance at the
(see Figure 2). The percentage of non-ELLs performing Proficient level includes the competencies associated with
at or above basic in eighth-grade reading is higher than in the Basic level, and the Advanced level also includes the
fourth-grade, yet the trend reverses for ELL students where skills and knowledge associated with both the Basic and
lower percentages of ELLs score at basic or above in eighth- the Proficient levels. (NAEP Frequently Asked Questions,
grade than in fourth-grade. Among eighth-graders in all
NAEP Glossary of Terms, http://nationsreportcard.gov/
states except Florida, 25 percent or fewer of ELLs scored at
or above the basic level in reading. In Florida, 41 percent of
ELLs scored at or above the basic level in reading.
Achievement gap between ELLs and non-ELLs
Percentage of English language learners and Percentage of English language learners and
non-ELLs that score at or above basic level in non-ELLs that score at or above basic level in reading
reading on 2009 fourth-grade NAEP Assessment on 2009 eighth-grade NAEP Assessment
100 100
Non-ELLs 83% Non-ELLs 84%
80 80 77% 76% 76%
74% 73% 74%
60 60
40% 41%
40 37% 40
25% 25%
21% 20% 20%
20 20
0 0
California Florida Massachusetts New York Texas California Florida Massachusetts New York Texas
Source: U.S.Department
Departmentof of Education,
Education, National
National Center
Center for Education
for Education Statistics, Assessment Source:
Statistics, National U.S. Department
of Educational of Education,
Progress (NAEP), National
2009 Reading Center for Education Statistics,
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Reading Assessment. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Reading Assessment.
6 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
10. While the causes of the discrepancy in achievement between ELLs and their
non-ELL peers are debatable, it is a clear indication of the need to address the gap.
Some hypothesize that ELLs begin school at a disadvantage linguistically relative
to their non-ELL peers because they did not have adequate exposure and models
to learn how to speak or listen in English, as well as having limited knowledge
of the English vocabulary to support academic readiness. As a result the assess-
ments may not validly assess students’ knowledge of content, but instead reflect
their level of English language proficiency.8 The achievement gap between ELLs
and their non-ELL peers widens over time and could be exacerbated by teachers
who do not know how to focus on and support ELLs in their oral and academic
language development in the later grades. In the absence of increased teacher
knowledge, skills, and support to address the needs of English language learners,
the National Assessment of Educational Progress results will continue to demon-
strate a significant and widening achievement gap between ELLs and their peers.
Questions abound on how best to improve outcomes for ELLs who face multiple
systemic barriers that contribute to their low academic outcomes as compared to
their non-ELL peers. Many of these factors extend beyond limited proficiency in
English and include socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, health status, and par-
ent resources as well as inadequate support at school, including limited language
services and inadequately trained teachers. To date, there has been relatively little
attention paid to the role of systemic factors that contribute to inadequately trained
teachers and the associated low academic outcomes for ELLs. Research shows that a
high-quality teacher can have a significant effect on student outcomes;9 thus improv-
ing the policies that stipulate teacher knowledge and skills for working with ELLs is
one way to improve the educational outcomes for these students.
7 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
11. Insufficient and inconsistent
information for teachers
Many teachers of ELLs are increasingly concerned about being held accountable for
their students’ progress as measured by standardized tests. Clearly, teachers of ELL
students need the appropriate training to be able to meet their students’ language
and learning needs and to facilitate academic growth, yet most teachers lack this
training.10 While some research indicates that there are promising teaching methods
for working with ELLs, the actual knowledge and skills that teacher candidates need
to support effective instruction for ELLs does not always reach them.11
Currently, at the various stages of teacher preparation, certification, and evalua-
tion, there is insufficient information on what teachers should know about teach-
ing ELLs. A multisubject elementary school teacher candidate, for example, may
be required to take courses in child development, English language arts, math,
science, social studies, art, behavior management, and assessment, but not in the
pedagogy of teaching ELLs. Without specific required coursework relating to the
unique learning needs of ELLs, teachers will not be able to teach these students
adequately. Additionally, completion of the state approved teacher-preparation
program must often be accompanied by a passing score on the state teacher exam.
Often, these exams do not specifically assess for teacher knowledge or skills rel-
evant to teaching ELLs.
There are further inconsistencies across states in the required knowledge and
skills regarding ELLs for all teachers as part of initial certification. While some
states require specific coursework (Arizona, California, Florida, Pennsylvania,
and New York) and others make a general reference to the special needs of ELLs
(17 states), several states (15) have no requirement whatsoever.12 In California,
for example, there are specific teacher-performance expectations that address
the needs of English language learners, and teachers must meet a “Developing
English Language Skills” requirement. Similarly, all teachers in Florida must
take at least three semester hours of teaching English as a Second Language,
ESL. If the teachers will be providing primary literacy instruction, Florida
8 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
12. requires that they take 15 semester hours in ESL. New York, on the other
hand, requires six semester hours in general language acquisition and literacy,
which is supposed to apply to native English speakers and ELLs. Meanwhile,
Pennsylvania recently required all teachers to complete three credits of course-
work that addresses the needs of ELLs. While these requirements are a step
in the right direction, they certainly do not provide all that a teacher needs to
know about how to serve ELLs. Unfortunately, the majority of the states have By making sure
less explicit requirements for teacher preparation relevant to ELLs.
that the special
If we hope to see improvements in ELL achievement outcomes, greater continuity
in how general education teachers are prepared by teacher-education programs, needs of ELLs
certified by states, and evaluated by local education agencies, or LEAs, is essential.
By making sure that the special needs of ELLs are addressed at multiple stages of are addressed at
the teacher-preparation process, schools may gain higher quality teachers of ELLs
and more importantly, higher outcomes for ELLs. multiple stages
of the teacher-
What general education teachers should know to effectively teach
ELL students preparation
Recently, consensus has coalesced on some key research findings for teaching process, schools
ELLs, including the need to emphasize the development of oral language skills
and the need to focus on academic language and culturally inclusive practices.13 may gain higher
Unfortunately, this knowledge is often minimally reflected in the requirements
of teacher education programs, in state certification exams, or in school based quality teachers
teacher evaluations. Let’s look at each in turn.
of ELLs and more
All teachers working with ELLs must have a strong understanding of: importantly, higher
Oral language development outcomes for ELLs.
Teachers must have a working knowledge and understanding of language as a sys-
tem and of the role of the components of language and speech, specifically sounds,
grammar, meaning, coherence, communicative strategies, and social conventions.
Teachers must be able to draw explicit attention to the type of language and its use
in classroom settings, which is essential to first and second language learning.14
The recognition of language variation and dialectical differences and how these
relate to learning is also necessary.
9 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
13. Teachers also must be aware of the core similarities and differences between first
and second language development and know common patterns and milestones
of second language acquisition in order to choose materials and activities that
promote development.15 This includes recognizing the important role that oral
language development can play in the development of literacy and academic com-
petences.16 English language learners must develop oral language competences to
be able to better communicate their ideas, ask questions, listen effectively, interact
with peers and teachers, and become more successful learners. Teachers also need
to have a sense of what signs to look for when ELL students struggle with lan-
guage learning and communication, in addition to knowing how to assess or refer
struggling students to the appropriate specialist.17
Academic language
Teachers must have a working knowledge of academic language and of the
particular type of language used for instruction as well as for the cognitively
demanding tasks typically found in textbooks, classrooms, assessments, and those
necessary for engagement in discipline-specific areas. Recognizing the differences
between conversational language and academic language is crucial in that conver-
sational language proficiency is fundamentally different from academic language
proficiency—a reality that poses cognitive and linguistic challenges.18 Extensive
research has demonstrated that it takes ELLs longer than their non-ELL peers to
become proficient in academic language.19 Classroom teachers must be prepared
to teach ELLs and have an understanding of the linguistic demands of academic
tasks and skills to address the role of academic language in their instruction.20
Cultural diversity and inclusivity
Teachers must have a working knowledge and understanding of the role of culture
in language development and academic achievement. Cultural differences often
affect ELL students’ classroom participation and performance in several ways.21
The norms for behavior, communication, and interactions with others that ELL
students use in their homes often do not match the norms that are enforced in the
school setting.22 One way this plays out is with the cultural conventions that chil-
dren learn in the home about eye contact, voice volume, or attributing work to an
individual versus to the group, which may conflict with the teacher’s expectations
in the classroom. This can result in misunderstandings or confusion on the part of
the student. Teachers’ understanding and appreciation of these differences help
them to respond in ways that help to create a reciprocal learning environment.
10 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
14. Essential knowledge for teachers of ELLs
Support oral language development • Understanding the differences of informal language and aca-
demic language is important. Opportunities to learn and practice
• Oral language proficiency allows students to participate in aca- academic language are essential. Students must be exposed to
demic discussions, understand instruction, and build literacy skills. sophisticated and varied vocabulary and grammatical structures
and avoid slang and idioms.
• Students with more developed first language skills are able better
able to develop their second language skills. • Opportunities and instruction on using academic language accu-
rately in multiple contexts and texts is of critical importance for all
• Vocabulary knowledge plays an important role in oral language English language learners.
proficiency. ELLs require direct teaching of new words along with
opportunities to learn new words in context through hearing, • Schoolwide efforts and coordination of curriculum across content
seeing, and saying them as well as during indirect encounters with area teachers helps build on a foundation of prior knowledge.
authentic and motivating texts.
• Building oral proficiency in a second language can be supported Value cultural diversity
by the use of nonverbal cues, visual aids, gestures, and multisen-
sory hands-on methods. Other strategies include: establishing • ELLs typically face multiple challenges in the transition from home
routines, extended talk on a single topic, providing students with to school as most are from culturally diverse backgrounds. School-
immediate feedback, opportunities to converse with teachers, ing experiences should reaffirm the social, cultural, and historical
speaking slowly, using clear repetition, and paraphrasing supports experiences of all students.
oral communication.
• Teachers and students should be expected to accept, explore, and
• Students should receive explicit instruction and preparation understand different perspectives and be prepared as citizens of a
techniques to aid in speaking with others by teaching words and multicultural and global society.
grammatical features that are used in academic settings.
• Opportunities for teachers and students to interact with diverse
cultures can be created in multiple ways through inclusive teaching
Explicitly teach academic English practices, reading and multimedia materials, school traditions and
rituals, assembly programs, and cafeteria food that represent all
• Academic language is decontextualized, abstract, technical, and liter- backgrounds.
ary. It is difficult for native speakers and even more difficult for ELLs.
• Involving parents and community in a meaningful way with out-
• Academic language is not limited to one area of language and reach and letters to homes, bulletin boards, and staff helps build
requires skills in multiple domains, including vocabulary, syntax/ appreciation of diversity.
grammar, and phonology.
11 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
15. Ensuring all teachers are adequately
prepared to work with ELLs
A number of checkpoints are encountered en route to becoming a teacher, includ-
ing education coursework, student teaching, passing state teacher examinations,
induction period once hired by a district, and on-the-job performance evalua-
tions. These checkpoints can be seen as opportunities for ensuring that teachers
meet certain standards that prepare them for working effectively with students
with diverse language and learning needs.
Unfortunately, under current practices the knowledge and skills that teachers are
expected to demonstrate mastery of at each of these checkpoints rarely correlate
from one to another and frequently do not address the needs of English language
learners. New York, for example, requires that teachers take six units of course-
work on general language acquisition and literacy development but these courses
may not specifically address the unique needs of ELLs.23 Typically, the required
sequence for initial certification will include courses that are focused on literacy
in general. There is no guarantee that through these courses teachers will gain
knowledge of research-based methods for working with ELLs on oral language
and academic language development as well as cultural inclusivity as a part of the
curriculum. In addition to coursework, teacher candidates for initial certifica-
tion in New York must pass state examinations that assess teacher knowledge and
skills, but are not necessarily specific to ELLs. Our findings suggest that teachers
can pass the exams with some knowledge of oral language development but there
are minimal requirements related to knowledge of academic language or culture,
which suggests that teachers can move onto jobs in schools without this content.
Once teachers are on the job in New York, the evaluation documents do not require
them to demonstrate knowledge or skills in building students’ oral and academic lan-
guage development or cultural inclusiveness as part of their observation evaluations.24
As we outlined above, several states have different requirements for coursework and
skills related to ELLs as part of initial teacher certification. Let’s turn next to our analy-
sis of state teacher-certification examinations and on-the-job performance evaluations
that often miss an emphasis on teachers’ effectiveness when working with ELLs.
12 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
16. State teacher-certification examinations
In most states, teacher certification includes completion of a teacher-preparation
program and achieving passing scores on the state teacher examination. States will
typically set standards for teacher-preparation programs and oversee the teacher
competency exams, which are developed in collaboration with representatives
from state boards of education, teacher-preparation programs, and educators.
Ideally, both teacher-education programs and teacher examinations should be
aligned with states’ learning standards for students.
Our review of the content guides and preparation materials of state exams (see
Table 2) revealed varied degrees of focus—none, generic, some, or specific— Ideally, both
on key themes that are specifically relevant to ELLs, those being oral language
development, academic language, culture, or diversity. Some references to ELLs teacher-education
were very general. On the Massachusetts language arts subtest of the general cur-
riculum exam, teacher candidates are expected to: “Recognize major linguistic programs
origins of the English language (e.g., Anglo-Saxon roots, Celtic influences, Greek
and Roman elements).”25 Meanwhile, New York state requires teacher candidates and teacher
sitting for the multisubject content specialty test, one of several state exams, to be
skilled in “recognizing the effective use of oral communication skills and nonver- examinations
bal communication skills in situations involving people of different ages, genders,
cultures, and other personal characteristics”.26 In Florida, teacher candidates must should be aligned
demonstrate an ability to “identify and apply professional guidelines for select-
ing multicultural literature” on the Elementary Education K-6 Language Arts and with states’ learning
Reading subtest of the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations, FTCE.27
standards for
Only the states of California and Texas specifically mention content that is
relevant to ELLs in their teacher requirements. California teacher candidates students.
are expected to “…apply knowledge of both the development of a first language
and the acquisition of subsequent ones. They can describe the principal observ-
able milestones in each domain, and identify the major theories that attempt to
explain the processes of development and acquisition.” Similarly, in Texas, teacher
candidates must demonstrate planning and implementation for ELLs through
“systematic oral language instruction based on informal and formal assessment of
all students, including English language learners, oral language development and
addresses students’ individual needs, strengths and interests”.28
13 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
17. TABLE 2
Evidence of oral language, academic language, and culture/diversity for English language learners
as mentioned in state teacher-certification examinations and subtests for California, Florida,
Massachusetts, New York, and Texas
New York
California Subject Florida Teacher Massachusetts The Texas Examinations
State exam State Teacher
Examinations for Certification Tests for Educator of Educator Standards
Certification Exam
Teachers (CSET) Examination (FTCE) Licensure (MTEL) (TExES)
• English • Language arts • Language arts • Written analysis • English language arts/
and reading and expression reading
• Mathematics • Mathematics
• Mathematics • Science/math/ • Mathematics
• Social Sciences • History/Social
• Social Science science • Social studies
• Science • History
Subtest • Science and • Science • Science
• Visual/performing arts • Art
• Integration • Fine arts, health, and
• Health • Music, visual arts, • Communication physical education
• Physical education physical education, and research
and health
*** * ** *** ***
** -- -- ** **
** * -- * ***
Source: Jennifer F. Samson and Brian A. Collins, Hunter College, City University of New York.
-- No mention
* Generic mention
** Some mention
*** Specific mention
On-the-job performance evaluations
A district’s teacher-observation rubrics are one mechanism used to determine
teacher effectiveness. While there is growing pressure at the federal level to insti-
tute the use of value-added models in the evaluation of teachers, some research
suggests that subjective evaluation measures such as observations can be just as
informative as other measures when evaluating teacher effectiveness.29 Teacher-
observation rubrics can serve as practical, formative evaluation tools that teachers
can use to adjust their teaching to meet the needs of their students at a level of
specificity that may not be afforded with the value-added models. Below we list
dimensions that were drawn from teacher-observation rubrics from five large cit-
ies in states that were included in our analysis. (see Table 3) What was evident was
just how much variation there was in the level of specificity in each of the rubrics,
14 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
18. with some being rather general (California, New York) while others were more
detailed and comprehensive (Florida, Massachusetts, Texas) and included sup-
porting materials. The more comprehensive teacher evaluation rubrics share spe-
cific references to the needs of ELLs. Coincidentally, fourth-grade ELL students
in Florida, Massachusetts, and Texas did better on the NAEP than their peers in
California and New York. School districts that clearly articulate expectations for
teachers may as a result foster specific teaching practices and behaviors that lead to
improved outcomes for students.
Evidence of content on oral language, academic language, and culture/diversity as mentioned on
teacher-observation rubric dimensions for five large metropolitan areas
Teacher-observation rubric
Los Angeles, CA Miami-Dade, FL Boston, MA New York, NY Houston, TX
• Achievement • Active, successful student
• Equity and high • Personal and
of instructional • Learner progress participation in the learning
expectations professional qualities
objectives process
• Preparation and • Knowledge of • Pupil guidance and
• Professionalism • Learner-centered instruction
planning learners instruction
• Safe, respectful, culturally
• Classroom • Instructional • Classroom or shop • Evaluation and feedback on
sensitive and responsive
performance planning management student progress
learning communities
• General • Instructional • Participation • Management of student
• Partnership with family
professional delivery and in school and discipline, instructional
and community
skills engagement community activities strategies, time, and materials
• Punctuality and • Instructional planning
• Assessment • Professional communication
attendance and implementation
• Achievement
of instructional • Communication • Content knowledge
• Preparation and • Monitoring and
• Professionalism
planning assessment of progress
• Learning • Reflection, collaboration,
environment and personal growth
* ** *** * **
-- ** ** -- **
* *** *** * ***
Source: Jennifer F. Samson and Brian A. Collins, Hunter College, City University of New York.
-- No mention
* Generic mention
** Some mention
*** Specific mention
15 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
19. Pathways for improving teacher preparation
Given the increased diversity of students in most U.S. schools and the high-pro-
portion of English language learners accounting for the majority of K-12 enroll-
ment growth in the past decades, it is essential for all teachers to be prepared to
meet the unique needs of these students.30 There are three potential pathways in
which change is typically introduced in educational reform:
• Accreditation/state teacher program standards
• Legislative policies
• Court rulings
The degree to which each of these pathways can represent consistent information
for teachers on ELLs may be one way to ensure that teachers develop a deeper
understanding at each of the junctures.
The first pathway—accreditation/state teacher program standards—requires that
teacher-preparation programs submit reports to accreditation bodies. The largest
accreditation body, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education,
or NCATE, articulates six standards that programs must meet, some of which relate
to ELLs. Specifically, there is NCATE Standard 4: Diversity, which urges teacher-
preparation programs to attract diverse candidates, employ faculty from a variety
of backgrounds, and include curricula and field experiences that increase teacher
candidates’ knowledge of and experience with a diverse student body.31
Unfortunately, despite NCATE’s urging, the diversity in our nation’s schools is
not fully reflected in the teaching force or for that matter, in teacher education
program faculty. In the 2008-09 school year, it was estimated that approximately
45 percent of the country’s students were from ethnic minority families, yet 83
percent of teachers were white.32 This potential cultural mismatch could contrib-
ute to teachers’ lack of understanding about how to accommodate students from
diverse backgrounds. This mismatch means that it is especially important to
ensure that teachers have opportunities to develop cultural competence as part of
their teacher education experiences.33 It is precisely because of this mismatch in
linguistic and cultural backgrounds that most teachers will need development and
support on how best to address the learning needs of ELLs.
There is reason, however, to question the effect of these standards on the quality of
teacher-education programs as NCATE does little to “ensure the nature, quality, or
16 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
20. extent of that preparation.”34 Despite the fact that 49 states have programs that are
accredited by NCATE, we find that the enforcement of diversity standards and the
use of research-based knowledge on best practices when it comes to ELLs is often
not reflected in program requirements. As a consequence, preparing all teachers to
work effectively with ELLs is lacking in many teacher-preparation programs.
Despite the fact
Currently, NCATE is in the process of merging with the Teacher Education
Accreditation Council, or TEAC, to form the Council for the Accreditation of that 49 states have
Educator Preparation, or CAEP. This merger presents a unique opportunity for
educational leaders to be proactive in shaping the knowledge and skills that teach- programs that
ers ought to have in order to make a difference for ELLs. As part of that effort, the
soon-to-be-formed CAEP should insist that teacher-education programs prepare are accredited by
teachers for working with ELLs in order to gain accreditation.
NCATE, we find that
A second method for increasing the focus on English language learners in teacher
preparation is through implementation of legislation at both the federal and state the enforcement of
level. Recent federal standard-based reform movements that have emerged in
anticipation of the reauthorization of ESEA and some of the proposed changes diversity standards
potentially have a significant impact on the education of ELLs. The original
accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind brought the achievement and the use of
gaps that exist between ELLs and non-ELLs into sharp focus because schools
were required to report on the progress of ELLs, particularly on standardized research-based
tests, at a level of specificity that was not previously required. As a result of this
accountability, school administrators and teachers were forced to attend to the knowledge on best
needs of ELLs. Prior to NCLB, students at the fringes, including ELLs and stu-
dents with disabilities, were not counted in the evaluation of schools and teachers. practices when it
The context changed dramatically after 2001 and now all schools are focused on
the achievement scores of all students. While the reauthorization of the law is comes to ELLs is
still in question, there has been a recent development that causes concern—the
introduction of waivers that allows states to bypass some of the key requirements often not reflected
of NCLB. There are both pros and cons associated with differentiated accountabil-
ity that is offered through waivers, yet it is still vitally important that the specific in program
needs of ELLs are carefully considered. Specifically, it is important to consider
how teachers (general, ESL, content, elementary/secondary) are evaluated with requirements.
respect to the language and content knowledge growth of ELLs.35
State initiatives have also had a significant impact regarding the education of
ELLs. In California, for example, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, or
CTC, is the government agency that awards certification to graduates of programs
17 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
21. that meet the standards for educator preparation. Citing California Assembly Bill
537, Chapter 587 which relates to discrimination—the Commission of Teacher
Credentialing requires that teacher-education programs ensure that teacher
candidates be prepared to demonstrate the ability to teach and engage all types of
learners. The commission also requires that teacher-preparation programs ensure
that their graduates meet a specific standard on equity, diversity and access to the
curriculum for all children.36 This standard stipulates that all teachers know how to
address the academic needs of all students from a variety of ethnic, racial cultural,
and linguistic backgrounds. Furthermore, it requires that candidates:
“study and discuss the historical and cultural traditions of the cultural and ethnic
groups…and include cultural traditions and community values and resources
in the instructional program of a classroom…recognize and eliminate bias …
systematically examine his/her stated and implied beliefs, attitudes and expecta-
tions about diverse students...”37
Explicit recognition of the need to prepare teachers for working with English
language learners in state-level policies is a step in the right direction, particu-
larly if it includes a change to teacher-preparation programs to include specific
content and experiences that ensure that teachers are adequately prepared to
meet the needs of all students.
The final lever for institutionalizing change is through the courts. Historically, the
courts have played a key role in the advocacy of educational rights and equity for
ELLs. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Lau v. Nichols (1974) ruled that
schools have a legal obligation to address both the language and curricular needs
of ELLs. Later rulings mandated that the education of ELLs must be based on
sound educational theory,38 implemented adequately, and evaluated for its effec-
tiveness. The U.S. Department of Justice39 recently found that in Massachusetts,
teachers of ELLs were not adequately trained to provide for their instructional
needs, which was a violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. As a
result, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to
mandate training and also specified the preparation that will be required of teach-
ers of ELLs. Similar increases in training and program supports are currently being
instituted in New York City schools as part of a state-mandated “Corrective Action
Plan”40 aimed at improving service areas for ELLs.
A 1990 class action suit filed in Florida on behalf of a group of minority rights
advocacy groups significantly altered the quality of teacher preparation for
18 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
22. working with ELLs.41 The landmark case resulted in the Education of Speakers
of Other Languages, or ESOL, Consent Decree and included stipulations related
to assessment, program planning, and training of personnel who come in contact
with ELLs. Beginning in 2003, these requirements applied to all school districts
in the state of Florida and mandated that ESOL teachers take coursework in
methods, curriculum/design, cross-cultural communication, applied linguistics,
and testing and evaluation. In addition, all Florida teachers of the basic subjects
are required to take 60 in-service points or the equivalent college credit of three
semester hours in coursework related to the effective teaching of ELLs. Finally,
teachers in other subject areas are required to participate in 18 in-service points
or three semester hours on teaching ELLs. These more rigorous standards for
teaching ELLs may be a contributing factor in the impressive academic gains that
ELLs have made in Florida since 2003.
19 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
23. In order to make significant progress in improving the outcomes for ELLs, sweeping
changes are needed in the way that teachers are prepared and supported to better
serve this growing population. Given the current reform efforts in learning stan-
dards and teacher evaluations, a unique opportunity exists to get things right for all
students, including ELLs whose subpar educational performance requires urgent
attention. In our review of the research, we identified oral language development,
academic language, and cultural diversity as critical bodies of knowledge and skill
areas for all teachers of ELLs that were noticeably absent in the areas of policy and
practice. By addressing the lack of accountability and alignment among teacher-
education programs, state certification offices, and local school districts in terms of
what knowledge and skills teachers must possess relative to ELLs, there is potential
for improving student outcomes. In our analysis of existing policies for accreditation
standards, state requirements for certification, and teacher-observation rubrics, we
found limited references to the specific needs of ELLs, which may be a reflection of
the systemic inadequacies that lead to insufficient teacher preparation.
Certainly, the stark contrast between ELL student performance in Florida versus
all other states is important to investigate empirically. Future research on whether
there is a correlation between detailed formative evaluation rubrics (as provided in
Florida) and student outcomes would be worthwhile. It seems reasonable that when
teachers receive clearly articulated, consistent expectations on how best to work
with ELLs as part of their preparation, certification, and evaluation, the outcomes
for their ELL students will reflect this increased emphasis. To be sure, there is signifi-
cant room for improvement in how teacher-education programs prepare teachers for
working with ELLs and one possible solution is for teacher-education programs to
become more closely aligned with the school districts that hire their graduates.
When teachers have a large proportion of English language learners in their
classroom, which is likely the case in Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Boston,
and Miami, the question becomes: Are these teachers capable of providing the
20 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
24. necessary support to their students to ensure that they reach the required grade-
level achievement standards?
It is a question that largely remains unanswered, but one that nonetheless requires
closer examination, particularly when it comes to determining if teacher-prepa-
ration programs and state certification agencies are sufficiently aligned with what
teachers ought to know to improve outcomes for ELLs.
In light of our findings we recommend that consistent, specific guidelines on the
oral language, academic language, and cultural needs of ELLs be addressed in:
• Reauthorization of ESEA If we wish to see
• Revisions to NCATE standards
• State regulations change in teacher-
• Teacher-preparation programs
• State certification exams preparation
• Teacher-observation rubrics
• Professional development linked to teacher evaluation programs guidance
As discussed earlier, the involvement of the courts is a catalyst for change that at the federal level
has led to important educational policy in the past. This type of action, however,
requires constituents who feel sufficiently empowered and confident about their is essential as is
right to seek change on behalf of their children. Because the parents of ELLs are
often immigrants who are socially, economically, and politically vulnerable, it is the involvement of
unlikely they would initiate legal action involving the courts. Therefore, if we wish
to see change in teacher-preparation programs, guidance at the federal level is accrediting bodies
essential as is the involvement of accrediting bodies and state agencies.
and state agencies.
Again we cannot stress enough just how vital it is to articulate the need for teacher-
education programs to prepare teachers for all of the students that they will encoun-
ter in the schools. Certainly, NCATE through its standards and review process can
insist that teacher-education programs demonstrate how they are addressing the
diverse needs of ELLs in order to gain accreditation. Similarly, state regulations
ought to include specific mention of the need for state- approved teacher education
and alternative teacher-preparation programs to require coursework and field experi-
ences that prepare teacher candidates to work with ELLs (as is the case in Florida
and California). In addition, state agencies can require that teacher candidates dem-
onstrate their knowledge and skills on state exams or performance evaluations.
21 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
25. Finally, school district policy can include a section on teacher-observation rubrics
that requires teachers to demonstrate how they are meeting the language and
learning needs of ELLs in their classrooms. This information can in turn be used
to support professional development aligned with teacher needs.
The recommendations outlined above are by no means meant to be comprehen-
sive, but rather a starting point of the knowledge content and skills that teachers
ought to possess in order to be better prepared to work with ELLs. Indeed these
are areas that fall under the expertise of ESL and bilingual teachers who can serve
as collaborators in helping general education teachers meet their students’ needs.
Still we believe strongly that all teachers would benefit from a more detailed
understanding of the assessment, curricula, and instructional methods that would
meet the unique needs of ELLs. We argue here that teacher preparation and devel-
opment should require some basic knowledge relevant to ELLs for all teachers as a
first step in helping ELLs to realize greater academic gains.
22 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
26. About the authors
Jennifer F. Samson is an assistant professor of special education and faculty
associate at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, City
University of New York where she studies teacher quality to improve outcomes
for students at-risk for low academic achievement, including English language
learners and students with disabilities. She is currently investigating literacy
intervention programs for urban at-risk students and how to assess value-added
models of intervention within urban charter schools in New York City. Her recent
work includes a national review of special education teacher-preparation programs
for cultural and linguistic diversity to prevent disproportionate representation of
ELLs and a meta-analysis of effectiveness of special education services. Samson’s
research has been published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, Reading and
Writing, and Teaching Exceptional Children. She holds a doctor of education degree
in human development and psychology from Harvard University.
Brian A. Collins is an assistant professor in the department of curriculum and
teaching at Hunter College, City University of New York and works to support
bilingual education and emerging bilinguals. He holds a doctorate in bilingual
education from New York University, a master’s in Spanish from Middlebury
College, and a bachelor’s in education from New England College. Collins has
diverse research experience investigating issues surrounding education, immigra-
tion, dual-language development, mental health, and culture. His recent research
on immigrant children includes the Harvard Project on Child Language and
Developmental Psychiatry, Partnership for Teacher Excellence, and current
work on the CUNY New York State Initiative for Emergent Bilinguals. He has
published on language development, teacher-child relationships, cultural compe-
tence, and dimensions of children’s social, psychological, and academic wellbe-
ing in American Educational Research Journal, International Journal of Sociology of
Language, Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Journal of Moral
Education and Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
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tchrqual/learn/preparingteachersconference/whitehurst.html. 20 Schleppegrell, The Language of Schooling: A Functional Linguistics
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28. 21 A. M. Zehler and others, “Descriptive Study of Services to LEP 32 S. Aud and others. “The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011-
Students and LEP Students with Disabilities” (Arlington: U.S. Depart- 033).”
ment of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition, 2003).
33 G. Ladson-Billings, “Preparing Teachers for Diverse Populations: A
22 A. M. Padilla and D. Duran, “The Psychological Dimension in Under- Critical Race Theory Perspective.” Review of Research in Education 24
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California’s Immigrant Children: Theory, Research, and Implications for Ethics: A Multicultural Approach. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall,
Educational Policy (San Diego: Center for US-Mexican Studies, 1995). 1994). A. J. Villegas and T. Lucas, “Preparing Classroom Teachers
for English Language Learners: The Policy Context.” In T. Lucas ed.
23 New York State Education Department, “Plan Will Increase Options Teacher Preparation for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: A Resource
for Immigrant Families and Address Areas in Need of Improvement” for Teacher Educators. (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2011).
(2011), available at http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/ELL_Plan.html.
34 Villegas and Lucas, “Preparing Classroom Teachers for English Lan-
24 New York City Department of Education, Teacher Effectiveness guage Learners: The Policy Context.”
Project. White Paper #1 Project Design, 2010. Available at http://
schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/014BC792-E8F0-426C-A512- 35 National Center for English Language Acquisition, “Flexibility Prin-
C65CB7C38C73/0/NYCWP1Final_12610.pdf. ciple 2: State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability,
and Support” (2012), available at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/
25 National Center for English Language Acquisition, “The Growing uploads/44/differentiatedaccountability.pdf; National Center for
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26 New York State Teacher Certification Examinations (NYSTCE). “Field 36 California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, “California’s Teach-
03: English Language Arts Test Framework.” (Albany, NY: New York ing Performance Expectations” (2009, available at http://www.ctc.
State Education Department, 2003). Available at http://www.nystce. ca.gov/educator-prep/STDS-prep-program.html.
37 Ibid.
27 Florida Department of Education. “Florida Teacher Certification
Examination Test Preparation Guide for Professional Education.” 38 Castaneda v Pickard (1981), available at http://www.stanford.
(Tallahassee, FL: Institute for Instructional Research and Practice edu/~kenro/LAU/IAPolicy/IA1bCastanedaFullText.htm.
College of Education University of South Florida, 2006). Available at
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DOE082510.pdf. and Secondary Education English Language Learners: Educator
Preparation and Training Required for Sheltered English Immersion,
28 Texas Examination of Educator Standards (TExES). “Generalist EC-6 2011, available at http://www.doe.mass.edu/boe/docs/0911/item4.
Test Frameworks.” (2011) Available at http://www.texes.ets.org/ html.
40 New York State Education Department, “Plan Will Increase Options
29 J. E. Rockoff and C. Speroni, “Subjective and Objective Evaluations of for Immigrant Families and Address Areas in Need of Improvement”
Teacher Effectiveness: Evidence from New York City.” Labour Econom- (2011), available at http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/ELL_Plan.html.
ics 18 (2011): 687-96.
41 V. M. Macdonald, “The Status of English Language Learners in
30 S Aud and others, “The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011- Florida: Trends and Prospects Policy Brief”(Education Policy Studies
033).” U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Laboratory, 2004), available at http://edpolicylab.org.
Statistics. (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011).
31 National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
“Unit Standards in Effect 2008.” (2009). Available at http://www.
25 Center for American Progress | Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners
29. The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute
dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity
for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to
these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values.
We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and
international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that
is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
1333 H Street, NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20005 • Tel: 202-682-1611 • Fax: 202-682-1867 • www.americanprogress.org