How Next-Generation Standards and Assessments Can Foster Success for California’s English Learners

Year of publication: 
August 2012
Publication: 
Policy Analysis for California Education

A new PACE policy brief, by Robert Linquanti, Project Director and Senior Researcher at WestEd, and Kenji Hakuta, Professor of Education at Stanford University, examines how next-generation standards and assessments can foster success for California’s English Learners.

California cannot afford to ignore or postpone questions of how to support the academic success of English Learners (ELs) in the state’s K-12 education system. Language-minority students already represent more than 40 percent of the state’s K-12 public education students, and their share of enrollment is growing. How well California serves these students will help determine the vitality of the state’s economy and society in the years ahead.

In this policy brief, the authors argue that next-generation college- and career-ready standards signal a fundamental shift in the expectations for sophisticated language practices required of all students. This shift has enormous systemic implications for how we assess ELs’ academic performance; what English Language Development (ELD) standards emphasize; how we instruct and assess ELD to better develop ELs’ academic uses of language; how teachers instruct and students learn both language and content; and how the state can design more nuanced, responsive accountability policies and systems.

California’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), its revision of State ELD standards, and its governing state role in the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) all present opportunities to move forward on the challenges of fairly and accurately assessing the academic performance of English Learners.

Linquanti and Hakuta argue that:

  1. The state should address the correspondence between its ELD standards and its content standards strategically, to identify and prioritize aspects of the CCSS that maximize the potential for new assessments to attend to and measure language that is most relevant to academic content constructs.
  2. The next-generation academic content assessments now being developed by SBAC must move toward gauging the use of academic language of all students and reporting on their performance.
  3. Educators need to shift how they provide both ELD and core content instruction so that EL students have greater opportunities to learn language through content, and to learn content using language.

The authors offer concrete recommendations throughout the brief to help educational leaders and policymakers move toward these goals.

As California implements next-generation standards, instruction, assessments, and accountability, our state is uniquely situated – both in its needs and its resources – to help advance these interrelated efforts in directions that are more meaningful, relevant, and effective for its many EL and language-minority students, as well as for its teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

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