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English Language Learners

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racie Allen of the comedy team of Burns and Allen was once asked how one should speak French. She replied, "Well, you speak it the same way you speak English; you just use different words." When trying to assist in instructing English language learners, they usually have many concepts and language abilities that they need to master, as do the teachers that are trying to teach them. With the incorporation of the concepts and approaches to identify and assess the issues and concerns that we have learned in our classroom instruction, such as lesson preparation, building background, and comprehensible input, we can indeed teach our future English language learners all the right moves with all the right words.

One of the first challenges that ELL instructors must come to terms with is the identification and assessment of their students' learning capabilities in their classroom. Traditional identification instruments designed for English speakers may not be valid with English language learners. Identification of English language learners with special needs should include consideration of several factors, such as family history, developmental and health history, first language and literacy development, previous schooling, and the learners' current academic ability, just to name a few. Learning in any language is affected by learning disabilities, but second language learners with special needs present additional educational challenges. According to the British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills, and Training (Fowler & Hooper, 1998), instructors of English language learners with special needs should consider the cultural, developmental, and first language background of the learner. They should also do the following: (1.) Provide a highly structured learning environment; (2.) Focus on contextual learning;

Build on learners' prior knowledge; (4.) Provide constant review; (5.) Simplify language; (6.) Build other skills while developing English. The use of standardized testing to identify and assess the progress of English language learners with special needs is problematic. Normally designed for native English speakers, many assessment instruments do not reliably assess speakers of other languages because they ignore differences among linguistic and cultural groups (Schwarz & Burt, 1995). Assessment of English language learners with special needs should include the following: (1.) Consideration of cultural and developmental information; (2.) Collaboration of parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, speech/language pathologists, and ESL specialists: (4.) Determination of first language proficiency; (5.) Examination of assessor's cultural assumptions and expectations; and (6.) Continual revision of the assessment instruments and procedures used. Because procedures are not in place in many schools and school districts to successfully determine academic placement of English language learners, many of these learners are sometimes placed inappropriately. Some who do not need special services (other than English as a second language) may find themselves in special education classes. Others who need special services may be placed in regular classes without the extra supports and services that they need. Working with English language learners and with students requiring special education services requires collaboration among teachers, school psychologists, speech pathologists, and assessment personnel with expertise in general, bilingual, and special education. By incorporating these important and critical procedures in our planning processes, these collaborations in the identification and assessment of English language learners can be a less stressful and more constructive process.

A second issue that ELL instructors must contend with is NCLB testing requirements, which involve legal as well as academic understanding. Under Title I and Title III of the law, districts must also annually (in kindergarten through grade 12) assess ELLs in English language proficiencyÐ'--covering reading, writing speaking and listening. Title III also requires that the assessment cover comprehension. The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that comprehension can be demonstrated through reading and listening, so the same assessment may be used to meet the requirements of both titles of the law. ELLs must also be included in the state assessment system. However, during their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools, ELLs are not required by the law to take the

reading/English language arts assessment. During this first year of enrollment in U.S.

schools, they must take an English proficiency assessment and, if the state desires, will also participate in the reading/English language arts assessment. As an accommodation, ELLs may take the reading/English language arts state assessment in their native language for three to five years. States are only required to develop and administer native language assessments "to the extent practicable." Other accommodations include: small group administration, extra time or flexible scheduling, simplified instructions, dictionaries, recorded native language instructions, and letting students record responses in their native language. States may include results from the math and, if given, the reading/English language arts assessments in AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) calculations, but are not required to do so by the law. However, the number of ELLs taking tests in math, and English language proficiency and/or reading/English language arts must count toward the required 95 percent assessment participation rate. The state determines the exact minimum number. A state has the flexibility to define the ELL or LEP subgroup as only those students receiving direct, daily LEP services.

To meet these federal requirements in Texas, the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) was developed. This assessment system consists of the Reading Proficiency Tests in English (RPTE), which has been administered in Texas since the 1999Ð'-2000 school years, and new assessments called Observation Protocols, which were administered as benchmarks in the 2004Ð'-2005 school years as well. This assessment system will continue to be used to show the extent to which Title III-funded districts and the state as a whole meet federal English language proficiency accountability measures. RPTE enables Texas schools to monitor whether LEP students are making steady annual progress in English development during the time they qualify for an exemption from TAKS. RPTE has been carefully designed to assess what LEP students can read and comprehend at distinct stages of learning English. Educators who understand the stages of second language development are better able to help English learners



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