New ESL Standards Have Students Learning ‘Academic Language’

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

English language learners in Tennessee have reason to be excited as the state has recently implemented new standards that are aimed at helping ESL teachers to work in conjunction with teachers of other subjects to determine student progress in English language education. The new initiative is designed to help students learn faster and more efficiently.

Teachers of other subjects in Tennessee and across the United States for years have expressed extreme difficulty in tracking the progress of their students because the students did not have the English language skills to describe what they had learned in other classes, even if they had in fact been able to comprehend and understand the subject matter.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction came up with the new standards after taking part in a federal grant competition in conjunction with the No Child Left Behind Act. The World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment consortium recently made several updates to these standards, and schools in 35 states and Washington, D.C. now utilize them.

Tennessee is the latest state to implement the standards. The NCLBA introduced a revolutionary approach to English language instruction in elementary schools by mandating that individual states conduct regular testing of the progress of English learners. States are now being held accountable for the results of those tests.

For state officials, this meant that it was not enough to merely teach English language, but students were required to learn the same content in other subjects that their native English speaking classmates were learning.

The World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment standards are intended to make sure that ESL teachers are providing quality instruction that allows students to apply what they are learning in English to the other subjects they are studying. The goal is to get students to learn not only the English language but to learn academic language.

Consequently, the new standards have ESL instructors teaching academic content in English as well as the language itself.