Charlene Rivera


I’m Charlene Rivera, and I’m director of the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education at the George Washington University.  C H A R L E N E.

Um the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education was created about 5 years ago to house a set of projects that focused on teacher training uh policy research, and program evaluation.  And currently we felt that it was important to focus on issues of high standards for all students, in particular for English language learners.  And so that has been a primary focus but doing all of the kinds of work that are related to teacher training, to technical assistance, providing technical assistance, uh to as I say conducting policy kinds of research around assessment, inclusion, and accommodation of limited English proficient students, and program evaluation.  Uh working with school districts to uh look at their at a variety of at whatever programs they might have that they might like us to look at.  We’re currently evaluating the the DC summer schools program.  And the technical assistance, I should step back to say that I run one of the comprehensive centers, they’re uh 15, a network of 15 centers throughout the country that provide technical assistance to states, districts, and schools.  And the focus there is on serving high poverty schools, especially those that are serving students that are traditionally served, been served by ESCA, which would be Title One students.  Um limited English proficiency students or English language learners, migrant students, Indian students, and any students in those categories essentially.

Well as you know in the last 5 years um we have now the Improving American Schools Act.  Which really set in motion and actually there was some motion before that but we are now in a standards based reform kind of process.  And the standards being for all students at least that’s what the Improving American Schools Act emphasizes.  And so if all students are to reach the same high standards it means that we’re to look at our instructional systems and insure it’s all kids are receiving the same kind of instruction, that they have the opportunities that all stu that everyone has.  That English language learners have the same opportunities for AP courses or the same kind of opportunities for Algebra courses or Geometry courses or whatever is available to them.  And that at the same time there language needs are being addressed.  So that is it is a big challenge and believe me we’re goin right now through the whole process of of states identifying going through an accountability process really.  And states being required to identify all the schools that are in need of improvement.  And through that process there is there is a challenge also of finding other alternatives for educating students.  So that brings in the whole charter school movement and ah voucher kind of options that are out there.  But essentially the work that we do is designed to address the issue of raising standards.  Making sure that all students have high standards and that uh English language learners imparticular are addressed by those high standards.

If we’re talking about general education it’s it’s really recognizing that the landscape in terms of the population uh of English language learners is increasing and that it’s every educators responsibility, it isn’t just the bilingual educator or the ESL educator’s responsibilty.  Children are in schools and it is the responsibility of the school prinicpal, of the district, etc.  For, to ensure that all students are receiving an adequate education.  So it is really it’s it’s really on our shoulders to ensure that everyone is taking that responsibility seriously.  And I guess in the past with uh bilingual educators and ESL educators that have to some extent been um been shouldered with the responsibility and not, it hasn’t been seen necessarily as the responsibility of the entire school.  I know in my experience in teaching uh I taught in Boston and taught a junior high school class but my class was a unique class in the school.  It was not viewed necessarily as it well it was part of the school but there were certain things that didn’t get didn’t happen to that class only because they were forgotten.  Or and so now it it’s there’s a very different story.  Everyone needs to remember that those kids are there and there is to be awareness.  And every state teacher really in a sense needs to be educated to be able to at least address the basic address basic needs and to understand how language plays a role in uh learning and in in the education of these children.

Well I guess one thing would be that all teachers just are sensitive to the issues of language.  And recognize that a child who doesn’t speak English isn’t necessarily dumb or ignorant and and they may well be educated in their home language and perhaps have some of the the basic concepts.  And even if they don not have, they have not been educated in that a content area they probably they they bring something to the table and need to be recognized with that.  So I guess it’s a staring point, an awareness kind of of of frame.  But then to go beyond that is to have uh high expectations.  To ensure that what they are giving the students is not watered down curriculum, is not dumbed down, uh only because they don’t speak English, but rather it is an exciting kind of curriculum and there’s an opportunity for all students to actually engage in the content.  Now teaching English is a different story.  I mean there may be this uh there is this issue of(interruption)So first I guess in that frame I mean I guess I was talking basically about the awareness of language issues and language needs and then the high expectation that school folk, principals, teachers, etc. need to have in order to uh provide the adequate education for all students and ensure that the courses are there that the content is there and let students engage in that content and have the opportunity to engage in it.  And I guess also that it isn’t that that the third thing I would say is that it’s everyone’s responsibility, it isn’t just the bilingual educator’s responsibility or the uh ESL person’s responsibility.  It is the whole school is a learning community in a sense and all children need to be engaged and and need to be challenged in that learning community.

Well with regard to programs for English language learners I guess is you know the traditional model of bilingual education.  Um what has seems to be coming out in the last several years is more of an emphasis or more learning toward 2 way programs where it seems that um there’s the opportunity for English language learners and non English language learners for for uh uh mono lingual students to learn together and to engage together and for both groups to learn the the other the other’s language.  Uh but I’m not sure that that whether the issues is programs for say, I mean yes programs need to be there and it’s important to maintain, to have different kinds of programs uh to enforce for students and to continue to develop bilingual education where there’s the opportunity to have 2 languages being taught.  Um and and to use 2 languages to increases um student achievement.  But um I I think what’s really most important is to ensure that the whole school program is focused on high standards and that if if that there is truly a way of providing the appropriate kind of content courses for everyone.  So that it is not a separate kind of, it is not a serperate set of standards for English language learners but rather it is one standard for all students and everyone has the opportunity to reach those standards.

Well I I think bilingual education is a a very specific program model and it includes ESL and so it it is ESL is the fabric or part of the fabric of a bilingual program.  An ESL uh frame is is something that people may choose.  They may choose only to have an ESL program and that program would include uh most likely provide students with the opportunity to learn English and perhaps do some program uh areas uh some content areas in in English in simplified English or some other frame that that is around ESL.  Why people choose ESL programs above bilingual programs I would say essentially partly it’s it’s it’s the context of the situation, the politics of the area, the um the needs of the students, the number of students that are there.  If you have multiple language groups it’s difficult to to create bilingual programs for for small numbers of students.  Where as ESL programs van be created for any number of students that and no matter how how many language languages are represented in the group.

Well is it real?  Um I think that the article was really focused on on this idea of whether um English language learners were receiving the appropriate opportunities.  And whether there were high expectations for English language learners out there.  And we felt that it was that was not necessarily the case,  uh always, it’s not always the case and and and that we needed to bring some awareness to that issue.  So um and that’s that’s really the origin of the title Is It Real.  Now the equitable framework if um in can we stop here for a second(interruption).  Well we really were interested in looking at or in reflecting really on what was happening with English language learners with education for English language learners was program isolation and the real need to ensure the standards based kind of co process that English language learners needs were thought of up front and not after they’ve already, everyone else needs have been thought of.  So that really was the frame for the article to to encourage people to think about how to provide and equitable education uh based on the needs of English language learners and to ensure that those needs were integrated into the needs of all students.

In the work that we’ve been doing around uh collecting information about state assessment policies which we have done in the last year for 1998-99 we have actually gone uh and and asked states to provide us with their state assessment policies and then we’ve examined them and provided an overview of what is happened in what is happening in the states for that time period.  And this is under the frame that all states need to have their final assessments in place by 2000-2001 in order to meet the Title One requirements.  Well within that context we have um found that regarding accommodations state policies essentially have relied on what was in place for students with disabilities.  And in many cases states have taken that set of uh options and placed them in the policy’s statements for English language learners.  Now these this raises issues and that certainly is uh uh it’s a critical issue and then it goes it goes back to that issue of recognizing that English language learners bring something special to to the table and that is a need to have the language, their language needs recognized.  They don’t have a disability in the same way that that other students have uh theirs is a temporary disability, it is not a long term disability and it’s one that will be emiliated by learning a new language by learning English.  And so there is a distincitive difference in what is needed there.  And regarding the accommodations what we’ve done is to look at the traditional way that accommodations have been presented um normal or uh uh the the general kinds of accommodations that that state’s have are are around setting, timing, presentation, and other kinds of accommodations.  Well what we did was flip those around and start looking at accommodations that would address the language needs of students.  So we’ve looked at accommodations related to uh translation, accommodations related to English language kinds of uh accommodations that can be given to students and that other and essentially we find that states have relied more on the traditional kinds of setting and timing kinds of accommodations as opposed to relying on accommodations that would address the language needs such as in in in translation you can think about translating a test, you can think about providing students with the option of using a dictionary, providing them uh with with other opportunities or accommodations that would enable them to actually be able to achieve or to uh to grapple with the content of the question without uh penalizing them for their uh lesser knowledge of English language.

Well we, this research has really um it it is looking at the inclusion and accommodation of English language learners overall.  And not all tests, not all state assessments are high stakes.  The high stakes uh assessments really are those that uh would would be a gatekeeper.  They would either keep a child from moving up in a grade or they would keep them from graduation or they would uh pose some other kind of penalty on the student for not having achieved a certain level of uh of proficiency.  And we did not specifically in this last study look at high stakes testing although in a prior study that I did with Carolyn Vincent we did look at that issue of of high stakes testing and how it affects English language learners.  We really looked more at the practices that states have.  That was in ’94, in at that time there were 17 states that had uh high school graduation tests in place.  I believe today there are like 18 states that have high school graduation tests in place.  And that where high stakes really does come in play.  And so for English language learners it’s a particular concern.  Especially if students have uh recently come to this country or have not have not been in school in situation for um for any any specific amount for a short period of time.  So um we have I would like to examine that more, we’re going to look at that more in depth and perhaps we’ll do that in the next year or so.  Looking at the policies that we’ve already looked at but then looking more specifically at what the practices are that states have for including English language learners in those assessments.
Well the benefits of being included in uh in an assessment program I guess you would say is that then students are are are being viewed on an equal playing field to some extent.  Everyone is is viewed from the same perspective.  And I guess that would be the first um an important an important way of looking at it.  Um but if we’re going to look at the issues and uh and problem areas in including English language learners we have to look at eh context for in which students are being included.  And the um the content areas in which the students are being included in these assessments.  Every state is different if we’re talking about the about the states assessments.  Every state uh has a a set of tests, there are uh in our study we we included 50, there are 51 states in a sense because we include the District of Columbia, uh 2 states uh Nebraska has no state wide assessments.  They leave it to the locals to decide which tests or which yes which tests um districts give and so they’re not counted in this process.  Uh the other states all have state assessment programs which means they can have anywhere from 1 to 5 or 6 or 7 tests that they administer to students. And those can be at different grade levels at different uh they can have different purposes.  So it really varies and whether uh English language learners are included in all of those assessments is also is also varies.  Um so states really um there’s there’s there’s I guess in terms of including English language learners in these kinds of of uh assessment the important piece is to understand what is the expected outcome.  Why are those tests being given?  Are if is there going to be a reward at the end of that process are schools going to be rewarded or are teachers going to be rewarded or students going to be recognized for the work that they’ve done.  And if they’ve if any of those things are in place it’s important probably to have some form of of inclusion for English language learners.  Accountability is one of the big concerns.  And that uh if if if school districts do not include English language do not have a a way of accounting for English language learners doesn’t mean they have to give them the test.  They can find other means of including English language learners in accountability systems.  But there has to be some kind of a measure for for that inclusion.

Well you have students who come the fact is that compound uh testing for for new English language learners for students who have just arrived in this country or students who are just learning English, uh the the factors are basically uh the language that the language proficieny that the students have in English um if they’re very new that’s that’s difficult to give them an English language test.  Uh and especially probably to provide them to do the to have them do a written test depending on their educational background.  And you have to recognize that there’s there’s the age issue the that the the the uh grade level issue where the students come in come into the system.  There’s the language issue, the extent to which they’ve been trained in English and what their proficiency is, whether they have uh literacy skills in English and the extent to which they feel comfortable in uh working with with any kind of an assessment.  Um so those are some of the factors that complicate I guess or or or are important to keep in mind when you’re actually administering tests to students.  I think there’s another factor and that is the factor of exposure of having the opportunity to understand what these tests are all about um the extent to which um other students mono lingual students come into a system and testing is just part of the fabric of what they do so they kind of get used to doing that.  Where as English language learners need ot get a-culturated to that process and so the teacher can help a lot by recognizing that these assessments are going to be asked of those students, whether they’re actual actually real uh or they’re counted uh it’s uh uh uh early stage or not, it probably is a good idea to not just exclude students or to say they don’t need to appear in the classroom that day but rather to perhaps provide them with an opportunity for a practice test or to walk them through what they concepts are of the test and and what might be expected of them at a later point in time.

In a classroom kind of context assessment is is a little bit a little bit different than in large scale assessment.  Teachers are assessing students every minute of the day practically.  Uh because they’re making judgements about whether the student is engaged in the work, whether they can do the work, and how they’re doing the work.  And when they create formal assessments for students uh teachers need to just to to to to be aware of some of the basic principles of of testing and that is that you want to have some reliability, you want to have consistency over time.  So you want to test enough you want to try out your test in a sense and and see if that’s going to provide you with that kind of uh of measure.  And you want to have a valid test, you want to have one that is assessing what the students have been taught.  So it’s very important to to sort of match the instruction with the test.  And I think teachers naturally do this, um now how how that all relates to grading then, uh well I think that you have to do multiple factors really when you’re making a judgement as to whether a student is reaching a standard, achieving a certain kind of uh outcome.  And that would be to consider the language factors, to consider uh the uh probably the engagement of the student in the in what they’re doing, uh the effort the student puts into it, I mean there are a number of things that a teacher can arrange. But I think that the trick and the very important thing is to put it up front and to have it as a public kind of record of about what is expected from the student. And all of us can then make the judgements as to how much effort we want to put into ma uh reaching those measures.  So if if a student is aware that effort is going to be a part of the grading process uh they they can well you know react to that.  If they know that uh written work is going to be counted they can react to that and homework is going to be counted, etc. etc.  So I mean there are a number of things that teachers can put in place uh and then but I think the important key is that that things are up front and that students know what that expectation is, and that the students can then also look at at uh at varying uh degrees of achieving those expectations.  So that there’s sort of a opportunity for them in a sense to look at the rubrick and also to look at action student work and what meets the teachers expect in the in teachers eye what meets the highest expectations then the students can then reach toward that high expectation.

Well if we’re talking about assessment uh for for if we’re talking about assessment then we’re trying to understand what is uh equal treatment of students or and what is quality treatment of students.  Think it’s important to consider uh uh this perhaps and that is there can be equal treatment of students, all students will receive the same test, but whether there is quality treatment of students uh that would have to be measured on a different scale.  And that would be to know whether the students have had the opportunity to learn.  I think opportunity to learn is very much a part of the frame that needs to be considered in terms of the quality, equality of of uh treatment and so if the students have received if all of those things factors are in place they have the uh opportunity to learn, courses are in place, uh the courses are available to them in a language of instruction that is that they are able to take in, they are able to engage in, uh then you probably have quality and equality uh.

This reminds me of a project we’re doing for the state of Delaware.  We’re actually looking at the process of simplified language and we’re uh taking test items and simplifying the language, science items and simplifying the language.  And we invited a number of teachers, science teachers, to work with us who are teaching English language learners but also have a um good background in science.  And what we found through that process really was that uh by looking at the items there are there’s a lot of content load in those items and language of the items.  And that there is some there are certain principles that one can apply to begin to simplify or to reduce the language load of the items and that is by looking at the vocabulary.  You prob you don’t want to remove words or remove the concepts, the basic concepts that are there, uh then you start measuring something else, but if you can look at the vocabulary, 1 teacher commented after going through this process I love this and we have taken 1000 uh high frequency words and he had they were using those high frequency words to substitute for other words that were in those uh in those items.  So using high frequency words is is one way of doing it.  Uh making sure that um uh diagrams and other things are very clear.  Using um shorter sentences sometimes or simplify uh not using complex sentence structures.  Uh using, making sure that uh and then looking over the work uh yourself.  These teachers uh actually thought that uh this process was so uh helpful to them that they were going to take it back and apply it not just to assessment, but they were going to take it back to their uh course work and to ensure that what they were doing when they was making assignments to students that they were taking into consideration some of the language load of the work that they were giving to the students.

I think the message really is that we’re all responsible. That uh these students are they have unique needs, but they are human being and they are individuals who bring a great deal of talent and ex knowledge.  And uh that in in engaging them and in providing them with the opportunities to learn uh to high standards that we are really uh opening ourselves up to learning about new cultures, about uh new language groups, and uh enabling individuals to move through a system of education that will in the end benefit all of society because then these students will come back and as we know that the demographics are changing so it’s very important to ensure that everyone is educated to the best quality possible so that our society will continue to thrive and to move forward.