Supporting English Language Learners in Texas
For students in the United States who speak little or no English, attending school can be a frustrating, confusing, and even fearful experience. As they struggle to understand what is being taught in their classes, many English language learners (ELLs) fall behind academically. To address this problem, educators must provide ELLs with the support they need to succeed both in school and in life.
In Texas, ELLs make up nearly 15% of K–12 students and often score lower on the state's proficiency exam. In 2009, SEDL's Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC) began helping the Texas Education Agency (TEA) improve support for ELLs by ensuring that schools provide effective linguistic accommodations during instruction. Linguistic accommodations are ways to modify instruction and assessments to help ELLs understand the content, thereby boosting their chance for academic success.
Identifying ELL Needs
As part of their partnership, the TXCC and TEA held a series of focus groups to learn how Texas districts and schools provide linguistic accommodations. "We went to the educators who have to respond to the needs of ELLs every day," says SEDL project director Haidee Williams, who heads the TXCC ELL project. "We found out what is really going on in the field and used that to shape our work." The feedback from the focus groups highlighted the variety of ELL needs and services in the state.
The TXCC team next collaborated with the TEA and the Center for Instruction to hold a 2-day research summit. Nationally recognized ELL experts met with state educators to discuss the focus group findings and the leading research on linguistic accommodations. "The summit provided an in-depth dialogue among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners as a means for bringing evidence to bear on practice," says SEDL program director Vicki Dimock, who directs the TXCC.
Collaborating to Put Research Into Practice
The focus group and research summit findings guided the TXCC and TEA as they determined how best to assist districts and schools in meeting the needs of ELLs. "Our research showed that the greatest need was for more professional development for teachers," says Dimock. "They needed assistance incorporating research-based linguistic accommodations into daily instruction, and they also needed more guidance in appropriately integrating the state's English Language Proficiency Standards."
Haidee Williams, SEDL Project Director
To provide teachers with this support, the TXCC is helping the TEA create an innovative online course, scheduled for completion in 2010. "This online resource will help teachers develop the skills required to enable limited English proficient students to meet the state's performance standards," says Roberto C. Manzo, program manager for the TEA's Limited English Proficient Student Success Initiatives.
The TXCC team is pleased with the project's success to date. "Our collaborative process in working with the TEA enabled us to translate the research into usable strategies for the classroom," says Williams. "This process is at the heart of the TXCC researcher-practitioner relationship. And it directly supports SEDL's mission to ensure a quality education for all students."