Imagine you’re a student being asked to demonstrate a level of knowledge and critical thinking never before demanded of the vast majority of students in the United States. That is what assessments for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative are asking — or will soon ask — students to do in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Now imagine you’re being asked to demonstrate this high level of learning and cognitive ability in a language different from the one you grew up with at home. If you were, say, a native English speaker and were asked to do this in Europe or Latin America, would your high school French or Spanish suffice?
That’s a little what the growing population English language learners in this country is being ask to do. And whether these students succeed or not is critical to our nation’s future.
“English language learners represent the future majority of our student population,” said Rose Aronson, executive director of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL). “So whether you come from a district where English language learners are already in large numbers, or from a district where their numbers are growing rapidly, you are directly affected.”
Aronson and Patte Barth, director of NBA’s Center for Public Education, spoke last week at a webinar, now archived, called The Common Core State Standards and English Language Learners: Challenges and Opportunities for Academic Success, which was sponsored by NSBA’s National Hispanic Caucus of School Board Members.
On the “opportunities” side, the CCSS sets the expectation that all students — including English Language Learners — will meet rigorous performance standards. And, because of this, Aronson said, “it has the potential to raise academic achievement of ELLs and close the achievement gap.”
In addition, “CCSS and NGSS [the Next Generation Science Standards] give us an opportunity to reassess our assumptions, instructional approaches, and polices related to the education of ELLs” and to strengthen the role of teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL).
Among the biggest challenges is ensuring that ELLs “acquire and use the academic language necessary to access the rigorous content demanded by the CCSS,” Aronson said. And there is the challenge of ensuring that all teachers are prepared to teach in the academic language that CCSS requires.
School boards have a big role to play regarding CCSS, Barth said. They can help all students succeed in this initiative by setting clear and high expectations, creating the conditions for success, holding the system accountable, creating the public will to success, and learning as a board team about CCSS and what it requires.