Friday, April 25, 2014

So You Want to Teach English Learners in Colorado?

A overview on how to identify, assess and assist English learners in Colorado

Thursday, April 24th, 2014
Kristal Goodell

Why Have Programs for English Learners?

In 2001, the federal government passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), an act which requires accountability on the assessment and instruction of English learners (Els). However, the act gives autonomy to the states to each implement their own their own programs as long as they meet basic requirements.

What does this mean for you as a teacher of Els? Your job can vary dramatically depending on where you teach. For those of you interested in teaching in Colorado, this article will serve as a brief overview to get you familiar with the required services Colorado offers Els.

Identification, Assessment and Assistance of Els in Colorado
There are steps that the federal government and the Colorado Department of Education require districts to follow when working with Els.

Step 1: Primary or Home Language Other than English (PHLOTE) Survey

During the registration process, ALL students at the school must fill out a PHLOTE survey (click here to see samples from the Colorado Department of Education). This survey will determine if the students speak a language other than English and need further assessment.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, “If any response on the home language questionnaire indicates the use of a language other than English by the student or another person in the home, further investigation must be conducted to determine the student’s English language proficiency.”

Step 2: WIDA-ACCESS Placement Tests (W-APT) and Body of Evidence (BOE)

After the school has received the PHLOTE surveys, the W-APT  must be administered to all new-to-district students identified as PHLOTE, within first 30 days of school or upon the first two weeks of arrival.

The cut scores for the W-APT are:

• Not English Proficient (NEP): < 3
• Limited English Proficiency (LEP): 3.0 to < 5.0
• May not be EL: 5 or higher, and score of 5 in each domain

In addition to the test, schools will determine the students’ proficiency levels with a BOE. The BOE must include state and district standardized test scores. It can also include student samples, assignments and teacher recommendations.

Step 3: Program Placement

In contrast to other states, there are a variety of El programs the school districts may use in Colorado to assist Els. In Colorado, districts can use bilingual, sheltered instruction (that only instructs in English, pull out, co-teacher, language development and transitional programs programs.

Before a student can be placed in a program, the district must notify the student’s parents or legal guardians in writing. The notification must be written in the parent or guardian's first language and received within the first 30 days of the start of the school year, or the first two weeks that the student has been in the district.

The notification must include the following information:

  • The reasons for identifying the child in need of English language instruction.
  • The child’s level of English proficiency, how such level was assessed and the status of the child’s academic achievement.
  • How the English language instruction program specifically will help the child acquire English and meet age appropriate standards for grade promotion and graduation.
  • The specific exit criteria for the program.
  • The expected rate of transition from the program into a classroom that is not tailored for LEP children.
  • The expected graduation rate for children in the program in secondary schools.

As mentioned earlier, Colorado gives schools and districts the unique freedom to select a program for their students that best fits the schools’ population and needs. However, it is essential that regardless of the program, the students are taught using the Colorado English Language Proficiency Standards (CELP) and the Colorado Assessment Standards (CAS) which are aligned to the Common Core Standards. In addition to using these standards throughout the year, the school must monitor and assess the students. Also, the school must communicate with the teachers and parents of the Els.

Step 4: Follow up Assessment

Each year, Els must take the ACCESS test. This test is aligned to the well known and research based WIDA standards. The ACCESS test determines student growth and school accountability. Districts administer this test in April and receive the results in July of each year.

Below is an accountability chart the Colorado Department of Education uses to determine the effectiveness of a school's Els program.

If a district does not “meet” or “exceed” in student growth, the following consequences occur:

  • A letter must be sent out to all the parents of Els to inform them that the school did not meet adequate growth within 30 days of receiving scores.
  • If the school or district fails to meet adequate growth for two years, the school must develop an improvement plan.
  • If the school or district fails to meet adequate growth for four years, the state can intervene and take additional action.

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