ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students: Before and After


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ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students: Before and After

  1. 1. ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students: Before and AfterEmily L. Gómez, Center for Applied LinguisticsThis article is based on a chapter in the forthcoming book Implementing the ESLStandards for Pre-K–12 Students Through Teacher Education, to be publishedby Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).Release of TESOLs ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students was the result of aconvergence of events in the education reform movement in the United Statesand the work of a great many people in the field of English as a second language(ESL) education and in other discipline areas. The standards have resulted inimprovements in professional development, curricula, and program design.Resulting publications and other resources have also given teachers,administrators, and policymakers new tools to work with as they seek to providea quality education for all children.BACKGROUNDEvents leading up to the publication of ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Studentswere triggered in part by the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk. Subsequently, TheNational Education Goals Report: Building a Nation of Learners was published;the Goals 2000: Educate America Act was adopted; and standards for contentareas such as mathematics and foreign languages were released. Thesedevelopments created, defined, and refined the notion of what standards-basededucation reform looks like, and how it can be achieved.Throughout the process, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages(TESOL), with assistance from the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), hastaken a leading role in ensuring that the needs of English language learners areincluded in the national discussion.In early 1991, the TESOL organization began to study the education reformmovement, beginning at a meeting of regional experts in K–12 ESL education(policy makers, teacher educators, administrators, classroom teachers), whodiscussed strategies for TESOLs involvement in advocating for languageminority students. A task force was formed, a subset of which met at the 1992conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) inAlbuquerque. The full task force then met with ESL representatives from stateeducation agencies at the 1992 TESOL Convention in Vancouver. An importantproduct of the task force meetings was the 1993 brochure, The TESOLStandards: Ensuring Access to Quality Educational Experiences for LanguageMinority Students--also known as the Access Brochure--which described theframework of services for the delivery of education to language minority students.This brochure became the first of several advocacy tools that could be used toencourage inclusion of English language learners in the educational reform
  2. 2. movement.By 1994, TESOL had formed a second task force to monitor national standardsdevelopment. Members of this task force recognized that the variousorganizations writing standards for content areas such as science, history,English language arts, civics, and geography were not taking the needs ofEnglish language learners into account. In fact, only two of the national contentstandards (English language arts and foreign languages) specifically includedreference to ESL students or culturally diverse students. Even the objectives anddata-gathering criteria established by the National Education Goals Panel,charged with monitoring national progress toward meeting the national goals, didnot identify limited English proficient as a category needing special examination.Meanwhile, demographic changes in U.S. schools were requiring that more, notless, attention be paid to the historically marginalized population of Englishlanguage learners. It was becoming clearer to the task force that contentstandards addressing the academic needs of ESL students should be developed.In 1994, this second task force began to develop the conceptual framework forcontent ESL standards. The framework described why ESL standards wereneeded, discussed myths about second language learning that TESOL wanted todispel, outlined general principles of second language acquisition, and articulatedTESOLs vision of effective education for English language learners. Thisdocument also described nine ESL standards and organized them around threegoals. This conceptual framework, later named Promising Futures, was sharedwith TESOL members in 1995 and then published the following year.At the 1995 TESOL convention, the TESOL Board of Directors approvedconversion of the task force into a full project, The ESL Standards Project.Following the convention, the project team created guidelines for writingstandards and organized the document into grade-level clusters: pre-K-3, 4-8,and 9-12. Within the grade-level clusters, each standard under the identified goalwas to be illustrated by descriptors, sample progress indicators, a vignette, anddiscussion. These terms are defined below.Goals are defined as overarching intentions for English language use; they aretied to social and academic language and appropriate use.Standards are what students should know and be able to do as a result ofinstruction.Descriptors are broad categories of behaviors that students can demonstratewhen they have met a standard.Progress Indicators are assessable, observable activities that students mayperform to show progress toward meeting the standard; they are organized bygrade-level clusters.
  3. 3. Vignettes are brief instructional sequences that show the standards in action,organized by grade-level clusters.Discussions are brief explanations of teacher and student actions in each of thevignettes, linking vignettes to standards and progress indicators.TESOL and NABE affiliate and state representatives were enlisted to form teamsof experts to write the standards. These teams were asked to generatedescriptors and sample progress indicators for their assigned standard andgrade-level cluster. In the vignettes, they were to describe activities that they hadundertaken successfully with their students that addressed their specific goal andstandard. They were also asked to describe the school setting (i.e., urban,suburban, or rural), the students ethnicity and English proficiency levels, and thetype of classroom in which the instruction took place (e.g., self-contained ESLclassroom, content classroom, sheltered, or content classroom).The ESL standards core team benefited greatly from the developmentexperiences of other content-area standards-writing teams, especially the teamfor foreign languages. TESOLs team used the foreign language standards as amodel, in particular, the concepts of progress indicators based on proficiencylevels and classroom learning scenarios that exemplify the standards in action.The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the InternationalReading Associations (IRA) English language arts standards also usedclassroom vignettes. Their standards document was the only one in a contentarea that included ESL and bilingual students in the vignettes.PUBLICATION OF THE ESL STANDARDSThroughout the fall of 1995 and into the early part of 1996, the core team revisedthe writing teams submissions and created additional vignettes and discussions.By March 1996, a draft of the ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students was ready tobe distributed. The team shared the document with the TESOL membership atthe annual convention in Chicago. Based on the reviews received from TESOLmembers as well as from invited reviewers and policy makers, the document wasreorganized and additional pieces added over the course of the next year. Thefinal standards document was published in 1997. The goals and standardsappear below.Goals for ESOL LearnersTESOL has established three broad goals for English language learners at allage levels, goals that include personal, social, and academic uses of English.Each goal is associated with three distinct standards. In TESOLs vision, studentswill meet these standards as a result of the instruction they receive.Goal 1: To use English to communicate in social settings
  4. 4. Students will: 1. use English to participate in social interaction 2. interact in, through, and with spoken and written English for personal expression and enjoyment 3. use learning strategies to extend their communicative competenceGoal 2: To use English to achieve academically in all content areasStandards for Goal 2Students will: 1. use English to interact in the classroom 2. use English to obtain, process, construct, and provide subject matter information in spoken and written form 3. use appropriate learning strategies to construct and apply academic knowledgeGoal 3: To use English in socially and culturally appropriate waysStandards for Goal 3Students will: 1. use the appropriate language variety, register, and genre according to audience, purpose, and setting 2. use nonverbal communication appropriate to audience, purpose, and setting 3. use appropriate learning strategies to extend their sociolinguistic and sociocultural competenceIn 1996, the "ESL Standards Project" grew into the "ESL Standards andAssessment Project." An assessment team was formed to develop a frameworkfor assessing English language learners attainment of the standards. As a result,Managing the Assessment Process: A Framework for Measuring Attainment ofthe ESL Standards was published in 1998. The framework is essentially aposition paper describing what good assessment should look like. A secondassessment book, Scenarios for ESL Standards-Based Assessment, will bepublished later this year.REACTIONThe publication of ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students was a milestone in thehistory of the ESL profession. Finally, here was a document--published by anational professional organization for teachers of English--that defined whateffective education for English language learners looked like. By reading thevignettes and seeing themselves mirrored in the pages of the ESL standards,
  5. 5. many teachers felt validated that they were on the right track. Teachers saw that,regardless of the program label under which they taught, many of the strategiesand techniques they were using were appropriate for teaching ESL and the skillsnecessary to achieve in content classes.Once teachers and administrators read through the ESL standards, they alsosaw that they could do more for their students. By using this document andothers discussed above as advocacy tools, they could move their school, district,or state to provide more comprehensive services for English language learners.Educators saw that much could be done to align their programs with the ESLstandards in terms of curriculum and assessment revision and professionaldevelopment. They realized that the standards document and its companionpieces, Managing the Assessment Process: A Framework for MeasuringAttainment of the ESL Standards; Training Others to Use the ESL Standards: AProfessional Development Manual; and Implementing the ESL Standards for Pre-K–12 Students Through Teacher Education could provide them with some of themissing pieces in developing their programs.Policy makers and administrators at the state and district level began to realizethat they needed to revise their ESL curricula and assessment systems to alignthem with the ESL standards. TESOL responded by providing many trainingopportunities for educators to learn about the standards and their applications.State and district ESL/bilingual or professional development offices have alsosponsored workshops for their personnel to aid them in developing anunderstanding of the standards. Many states and districts have alsospearheaded efforts to revise or develop standards-based curricula andassessment systems. Through standards-based curriculum and assessmentprogram revisions, hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers and administratorshave reflected on the quality of their programs and have been encouraged totake advantage of professional development opportunities.As reaction to the ESL standards developed, TESOL saw the need to work withselect implementation sites to monitor the process and to facilitate standards-based reform. For example, the ESL standards team has monitored the processthrough which a standards-based ESOL curriculum is being developed andimplemented across the K–12 spectrum in Montgomery County, Maryland. Theteam also joined with the Massachusetts TESOL affiliate, MATSOL, to provideprofessional development to five districts in Massachusetts with low numbers ofEnglish language learners.Once the standards document was published, the TESOL Board of Directorsrecognized the need for continued support of the ESL standards and assessmentproject and began to plan for additional publications and other support services to
  6. 6. ensure that these standards would be implemented in as many districts andstates as possible.The training and implementation publications mentioned above have resultedfrom this planning, as have additional services, including workshops and an ESLstandards implementation listserv. To subscribe, send an e-mail message In the subject line, type "subscribe." Leave therest of the e-mail message blank.The ESL standards implementation database is also available. This database isa compilation of responses from school, district, and state personnel regardingthe status of their ESL standards-based reform efforts.The full impact of the release of the ESL Standards for Pre-K--12 Students willnot be known for some time, but the standards have clearly made a strong initialimpression on educators who work with ESL and bilingual students. Thedocument has put the educational spotlight on students learning English andaddresses how educators can help these students move successfully from theESL or bilingual classroom to the mainstream classroom. Once these standardsare achieved, a student should be ready to meet the other content-areastandards. The ESL standards can thus be seen as an on-ramp to success,providing the framework for schools, districts, and states to evaluate theirprograms and improve the education of English language learners.REFERENCES AND RESOURCESPublications with an "ED" number have been included in the ERIC database andcan be ordered from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS) at or by calling 1-800-443-ERIC (3742).Goals panel expresses concern for status of U.S. education. (1993). Washington,DC: Numbers and Needs, 3(2), p. 2.National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: Theimperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.(ED 226 006).National Council of Teachers of English and the International ReadingAssociation. (1996). Standards for the English language arts. Urbana, IL: Author.(ED 389 003).National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluationstandards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.National Education Goals Panel. (1991). The national education goals report:Building a nation of learners. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. (ED334 280).National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project. (1996). Standards for
  7. 7. foreign language learning: Preparing for the 21st century. Lawrence, KS: AllenPress.Short, D.J., Gomez, E.L, Cloud, N., Katz, A., Gottlieb, M., & Malone, M. (2000).Training others to use the ESL standards: A professional development manual.Alexandria, VA: TESOL.Snow, M.A. (Ed.). (2000). Implementing the ESL standards for pre-K–12 studentsthrough teacher education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (1996). Promising futures.Alexandria, VA: Author.Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (1997). ESL standards forpre-K--12 students. Alexandria, VA: Author.Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (1998a). ESL standardstraining manual. Alexandria, VA: Author.Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (1998b). Managing theassessment process: A framework for measuring attainment of the ESLstandards. Alexandria, VA: Author.Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2000). Scenarios for ESLstandards-based assessment. Alexandria, VA: Author. Draft available: more information about the ESL standards and related publications, visitTESOLs Web site at visit CALs Web site at