Charlene Ribera

CHARLENE RIBERA:  I’m Charlene Ribera and I’m director of A Center For Equity and Excellence in Education at George Washington University. 

Well, in ’94 as you know, the improving America Schools—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was re-authorized.  (interruption)  In 1994, the Elementary/Secondary Education Act was to be reauthorized and as part of that there was really a reconceptualization about how services would be provided to students of all flavors, in a sense, especially to uh integrate the programming so that Title I funds were—were not done in isolation, but rather provided in a whole program of services. And for limited English proficient students, as they were named at that time, um were to be included in this whole school reform kind of—of program and model. And so through the reauthorization process as it went on in ’94, Eugene Garcia, who was then director of the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs, asked us to create some product or some way to create a national dialog about how limited English proficient students would be included in this school reform initiative. And so we put on our thinking hats and came up with the concept of putting together a framework for people and then developing indicators that would allow them to have a conversation about what was happening in schools directly and how this would affect English language learners.

OK.  With the reauthorization with that whole shift in the way uh services were be—would be provided to students, it was important to think of uh targeting all students and not just certain students for high standards.  And part of this whole new uh focus was on developing high standards, content standards, and performance standards as well as—for—for all students. And so in that context, it became very important to consider how English language learners would be included in that.  In the past, the history has been that English language learners—programs for English language learners, bilingual education and even ESL programs were seen as isolated programs and the students then were transitioned into mainstream programs.  In this new conceptualization, it really is the role of the school to uh take the responsibility for all students and to ensure that English language learners are receiving not only English language instruction but content instruction that addresses the high standards that are set by a state or a district—and/or a district.  And actually standards that possibly are national standards that all states have adopted.

Well, it was my staff, essentially. And Jan Hubert, uh who was on the staff at that time was very instrumental in uh helping us to develop this and—and, well, just working with everyone, pulling people together to uh come up with the—the main principles and uh then the indicators. We really did it through a process of developing ideas, putting them down on paper, sharing them with other folks, and then bringing together educators uh who had knowledge about English language learners.  Because this was a Federal initiative at the time to reauthorize the Elementary/Secondary Education Act to the—to which has now become the Improving America Schools Act, um it was important to also have byan from uh Federal departments. And so what we did was we organized a committee of—of people that were represented uh—who represented the office of bilingual education, who represented the office of the Secretary of Education, um the office of um Intergovernmental Affairs, and others who came together and reviewed the work that we had done to provide input and uh, in a sense, their approval of the—the—the frame that we were taking because we felt that it was not—we did not have the authority, in a sense, to mandate or to—to—to go and just do this on our own and we felt that we needed to have that understanding of—of those folk and then beyond that we took it—once we had that consensus from those Federal officials who were key in supporting the uh Improving of America Schools Act, then we took those—that product, in a sense, that we had developed through that process to a broader field.  We took it to bilingual educators uh both at uh school level, at a district level, and we took it to associations, individuals who were working with uh English language learners in a variety of ways.  So we took it NAVAY, we took it to TSOL, we took it ASCD, and other associations that had anything to do with English language learners. But we also went beyond that.  And I mentioned ASCD.  ASCD really is a mainstream association and we felt that it was important for all uh—for broad—broader world really to accept these principles if they were going to be put—be used and implemented. And so we uh extended it to hundreds or, I don’t know, there was just—just a lot of organizations that we sent the principals to, we asked them for their review, their comments, and then through that process we refined them and worked on the indicators a little bit more.  And then the final result was a development of the product, which is the way that they currently appear.

It’s interesting, the principles—there are only six principles. They’re very simple.  Simple principles that address standards, assessment, inclusion, accountability, assessment, uh parent involvement, and really the responsibility that everyone has for educating English language learners. So they’re not something that folks haven’t thought about before, um but they are a framework that people have been able to use um, to reflect on the ways their schools are organized.  At the beginning, uh the materials were disseminated through a variety of sources and sent out to educators. We did not do anything in particular to um—to work with people directly. We worked with a few people but we couldn’t work with everyone that received the principals. And what we tried to do was to keep in touch with those people and ask them for feedback on how they received the materials. And I think for the most part, people uh were very forthcoming and very uh enthusiastic about the materials because they felt that it really was an opportunity uh for them to have something in their schools that they could use to—to have a conversation with other educators about how to educate—best educate English language learners.

Well, I think that the way we intended or we thought that the principles might be used, there are six of them, and that you could take one at a time and so if you were talking about assessment, for example, that the indicators would be a way of reviewing the extent to which a school was appropriately addressing the needs of English language learners through assessment. And we probably are talking at this point about classroom assessment rather than large-scale assessment. And so it looks the extent to which appropriate kinds—teachers are trained in—in developing appropriate assessments, the extents to which uh students are—are being involved in coursework that is comparable to all other students in—in the school and being assessed on that course work. So there are a number of indicators like that that would begin to create that productive dialog among the people that are um—that are—are—are—are having that conversation about English language learners. And people use them in a variety of ways really.  I think that they created study teams in some cases. Principals sometimes had an opportunity to say well, this is a—a principle that we want to discuss this week and we would like to um have this conversation at our faculty meeting. And so they—they could be used for—for a variety of purposes and, as I say, people were creative in a way that they utilized the principles and that they continue to utilize the principles.

Well, we created the indicators for each—created indicators for each of the principles and we divided out the indicators uh to address uh clients, um practitioners, and policy makers.  We felt that it was important to address all three levels and when we say clients, we’re really talking about the teachers and—and the practitioners that are—are using the principles.  And that’s really the intended audience, that the practitioners.  But we felt that it was important to also—we needed some indicators that would address um the policy makers, for example.  And so that was—it was important to create or to maintain those um—to—to have that division. It was difficult—we created these indicators and we—just say, we just created a set of indicators and when you have two—just a large number of things, it’s hard to keep—to put a hanger on them, to keep them organized. And so it—it seemed appropriate to try and find a hook and that’s—that was—those are the hooks that we used to organize the indicators.

Well, with the concept for school reform being for all students and having high expectations for all students, it was important to emphasize that—that sameness. Um, it—we felt that it was important to point out that people should not just focus on the development of English language proficiency but to also to recognize that there is a need in schools to ensure that courses are provided that have the same high standards and the same content. Now strategies for teaching those things may differ and that’s one of the things we wanted to emphasize and that was hopefully part of the dialog that people would have about uh the standards. But basically it was that uh there has—there has to be a sameness I—I guess in terms of high expectations, a sameness in terms of standards, and the difference comes really in the strategies and the recognition that there is a special need that English language learners bring and that need is to be able to learn English um both orally and in uh written uh formats so that they can com—compete and that they can work with other students who have that advantage at the beginning.  But the second language is—and perhaps, just to go on, and we wanted to also emphasize that it was equally important to recognize that these students brought great gifts and that that great gift really was their first language, um and that that should be developed as well at—to the extent possible and to the extent that programs offer that opportunity to students.

The first principle is “Limited English proficient students are held to the same high expectations of learning established for all students.” 

This is the—the first principle because it’s sort of the—the frame and—and the basis on which all of the other principles uh fall or are—are—come from.  Essentially it’s—the whole point of it is that education—the education of limited English proficient students needs to be uh at high levels, it has to be at the same standard as it is provided for all other students. 

“Limited English proficient students develop full, productive, and receptive proficiencies in English in the domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing consistent with expectations for all students.  It’s important to recognize that English language learners do come with a need to learn English in the society and that they have a need to be taught and to learn English in a way that will enable them to negotiate and be able to work with uh students—with—with individuals in the society. And English, of course, is a vehicle for doing that. And in a school setting, of course, it’s—it’s the main uh tool that—that students have to be able to compete.

“Limited English proficient students are taught challenging content to enable them to meet performance standards in all content areas, including reading and language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, the fine arts, health, and physical education consistent with those for all students. 

Historically, English language learners or limited English proficient students—programs for—for these students have been language based so they’re taught English and perhaps they’re allowed to take a native language, but often the content areas are forgotten and we felt that it was very important to specify that it was important to have course offerings that met high standards in—in all course areas, especially these core ones that all other students receive.

The fourth principle is “Limited English proficient students receive instruction that builds on their previous education and cognitive abilities and that reflects their language proficiency levels.”  Again, this principle recognizes that English language learners bring a lot to the school in situation and that it’s important for educators to be able to build on those proficiencies that students bring with them. And historically, sometimes people think that they have to start from scratch and that they have to start uh teaching English uh if—if it’s a—if it’s uh, an older child, to teach them as if they would be teaching a first graders. And it’s important or recognize that—that people, despite the fact that they may not speak English, bring a lot of uh knowledge to the situation. And so it’s—it was just an important uh principle to uh promote and to antic—to uh recognize.

Principle five, “Limited English proficient students are evaluated with appropriate and valid assessments that are aligned with state and local standards and that take into account the language acquisition stages and cultural backgrounds of the students.”  Well, with the Improving America Schools Act, it was required that states develop uh, performance assessments. And those performance assessments were to include all students because states and districts are required to have accountability systems that demonstrate that all students are being taught to the standards and that they are meeting the standards. And so it was important to remind people that assessment is a critical issue for—for uh—for this population for English language learners.  Again, historically, people have developed English language proficiency measures but no one, or very few folks have thought about how standardized assessment, large scales assessments, and even classroom assessments should be developed to ensure that they address the needs of this population.

And principle six, “The academ—academic success of limited English (interruption)  Principle six, “The academic success of limited English proficient students is a responsibility shared by all educators, the family, and the community.”  This final principal we felt was important to put out there because in the past educators and schools have put English language learners in a classroom and have given the responsibility to one teacher or a couple of teachers and have just allowed them to sort of create their own world and to do their thing. And so in this era of inclusive education where it’s high standards for all students, it was important to recognize the fact that it is the responsibility of the entire building from the principal on down, from the district superintendent on down, in a sense, and even from the state on down. So it’s um—it is that—that was really the whole—the whole concept behind this. And then, of course, the parents need to be included in that equation and uh community members as well, business people and other who participate and who support schools.

Well, this is a tool and it’s a tool that takes time, it is a tool that—they’re beautiful—it’s a tool that people can use in a variety of ways and it takes time for people to get into the tools that are in the materials that we’ve developed.  Um, so I guess I envision that people will take the time to have that productive dialog, to set up study teams, and to then take that information and share it with others that they’re working with and to develop new ways of—of teaching and of creating environments for English language learners can thrive and where they’re um they’re being taught to high standards, where they’re being assessed appropriately, and where parents and other community members are participating and supporting their education.

Well, there is one thing. We use the terming,  “Limited English Proficient Students” and at that point in time we debated as to whether to use English language learners. But uh, it was not—in 1994, English language learners uh for some people did not seem appropriate and we did test it um and we got the—the feedback and the reaction that it seemed to be preferably to use the Federal term, limited English proficient students. But as time has evolved, we’ve recognized and realized and we—and actually the term, English language learners, has become much more accepted.  And so we’re in the process of revising the materials so that it does reflect this change and we’re also revising the materials so that they uh—we can make them available to people who are still using them in a variety of kinds of ways.