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Standards-based Instruction & the English Language Proficiency Standards

by Susan Watson

Since their release in late 2016, the English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education, or ELPS, have posed some challenges for Virginia adult educators: (1) we already had state-adopted standards for ESOL, (2) we had few resources for rolling out professional development on these standards, and (3) we needed to articulate a clear path forward with standards-based instruction (SBI) for English language learners in order to meet the state’s full implementation of SBI by the end of 2019. This article touches on some of the events of the past year in an effort to make clearer the decision to move forward with the ELPS rather than the Virginia ESOL standards and to explain what the field can expect in terms of professional development and technical assistance on the ELPS from VALRC in the 2018-19 program year.

Looking back over the last program year, it is clear how far we have come in our understanding of the ELPS and their role in the state’s plan for SBI with the College and Career Readiness Standards, or CCRS. Virginia adopted the CCRS in 2015 as the standards for all adult learners. However, as we have learned, the CCRS were not written with English language learners (ELLs) in mind. On the other hand, the ELPS were designed for ELLs and meant to bridge instruction to the CCRS. What makes the relationship between the two sets of standards so important is that the CCRS continue to be the end-point goal for SBI, and the ELPS are a complementary resource for reaching this goal. The ELPS correspond to the CCR anchor standards for English language arts and incorporate the three keys shifts of accessing complex text, citing evidence, and building knowledge from multiple texts. The bridging relationship to the CCRS informed the rationale for moving forward with the ELPS rather than the Virginia ESOL standards.

Another event that helped inform the decision about standards for English language learning was a revision of the six educational functioning levels for ESOL by the National Reporting System, or NRS. These descriptors can be found in the NRS Technical Assistance Guide for Performance Accountability under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (see document pages B19-B27 / PDF pages 102-110). We now know that the ELPS reflect the revisions and the Virginia ESOL standards do not. Revised descriptors imply many changes for adult educators, affecting testing and assessment policies.[1] It became clear that the ELPS, because of their relationship with the CCRS and their alignment to the new NRS descriptors, were the way forward for Virginia educators working with ELLs and the path toward our goal of full implementation of SBI by next year. This means we have a lot of work ahead of us!

Over the 2017-2018 year, we have worked very hard to develop professional development resources on the ELPS that we could share with the field. A group of nine ESOL professionals from around the state met on a regular basis throughout the year to develop workshops and compile resources. Part of this work included attending national conferences and reaching out to colleagues in Minnesota and Illinois. During this time, U.S. OCTAE began releasing materials on the ELPS via the LINCS network, and we were able to incorporate some of these materials into our work. At this point, we are prepared to offer high-quality teacher workshops and technical assistance on SBI and the ELPS.

The Adult Education & Literacy Conference will be one of the first opportunities for professional development on the ELPS. In addition to several sessions given by our own Virginia experts, one not-to-miss workshop will be with Jayme Adelson-Goldstein, author of the LINCS resource Preparing English Learners for Work and Career Pathways. This resource highlights career development and standards-based academic instruction for adult ELLs. In addition to Jayme’s resource, LINCS offers a one-hour online module that introduces participants to the basic structure of the ELPS, addressing how they were developed, how many standards there are, how the levels work, and how the ELPS correspond to the CCRS. A second and third module are forthcoming in 2019. We recommend all teachers working with ELLs review this first module as a way to get acquainted with the ELPS. VALRC is also developing a self-paced introduction to the ELPS that will be available through the Virginia Learning Center (VLC).

The CCRS continue to be the end-point goal for SBI, and the ELPS are a complementary resource for reaching this goal.

VALRC offers professional development workshops on demand. These workshops, which are 3 hours or more, can be tailored to the program or region’s needs and are relevant to both ESOL and ABE/ASE teachers and tutors. The workshops focus on one or more of the following areas: the basic structure of the ELPS, designing standards-based instruction, accessing and working with complex text, questioning strategies, citing evidence, building knowledge from multiple texts, and more. (Basic workshop descriptions can be found on the VALRC website.) Workshops are facilitated by VALRC staff or one of our contracted trainers. Initial rollout of these workshops began in January and will continue through the 2018-19 program year.

Listed below are some points to consider before requesting professional development on the ELPS. These ideas are drawn from feedback on workshops we’ve delivered, VALRC requirements, and the Handbook for Sustaining SBI in Adult Education: Checklists for Assessing Effective Implementation resource.

  1. Get to know the English language learner population in your area. What are their needs? What types of classes—ESOL, ABE, IET, GED® prep—do you offer for this population? For more information, you can visit this helpful website to find data on your region.
  2. Consider these questions: What are your teachers’ needs in terms of SBI with English language learners? What is their familiarity with the CCRS and the ELPS? What is your goal for them and your program? This helps us gauge what to include in a workshop when time and resources are limited.
  3. Critically assess your current curriculum and instructional resources. Are they aligned to the CCRS or ELPS? Do teachers have the resources they need for SBI?
  4. Have your staff view the introductory ELPS module prior to any professional development workshop. This helps us make the most out of our time together at the workshop.
  5. Assemble a minimum of 10 participants for a workshop, keeping in mind that the ELPS are for all teachers of ELLs, not only ESOL teachers.
  6. Allow a minimum of 3 hours for a workshop so there is time to practice with and apply some of the new materials.
  7. Have a follow-up plan for sustaining professional development on the ELPS so that your program can fully implement standards-based instruction by the end of June 2019. Please see Virginia’s SBI Technical Assistance Roadmap and the Sustainability Checklist for more ideas.
  8. Consider implementing an observation protocol with the CCR Observation Tool for ELA/Literacy as a way to generate data on your program’s progress with SBI.

  9. Create teacher leaders who will help you undertake this tremendous effort.

image of the English Language Proficiency Standards For Adult Education

We hope this short article makes clearer the state’s decision to move forward with the ELPS and what you can expect from VALRC in the form of professional development and technical assistance in the coming year. If you would like to learn more about the ELPS and plan a workshop event for your program or region, please contact our office to begin the conversation. We look forward to working with you and your teachers in the coming year as we move toward full implementation of standards-based instruction for all adult learners.

[1] The Technical Assistance Guide notes that new ESL descriptors have not yet been implemented, as the U.S. Department of Education has not yet approved any assessments aligned to the descriptors. This is similar to the lag in implementation experienced with the ABE/ASE descriptors. New NRS descriptors came out as states adopted the CCRS for instruction, but it took a few years to get assessments aligned and approved. That has happened now with the TABE 11/12 and CASAS GOALS series.

Susan Watson is ESOL Specialist at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center