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HomeLiteracy/ESLBringing It All Together with a Master Plan

Bringing It All Together with a Master Plan

Joanna Duggan and Teddi Predaris examine the ten key components of an English learner master plan

Imagine being the parent of a third grader new to a school in a large, urban district. Your child was designated as an English learner (EL) at her previous school, but you are not sure how the process will work in the new district. Will she have to be retested? Are there dual-language programs for her to enroll in? What supports does the school offer for ELs? What opportunities are there for parent engagement?

Now imagine being a ninth-grade English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher in the same district. How can you easily access information about the current process for identifying students as ELs? What is the process for evaluating language programming to determine if it is successful in meeting its goals? Where can you find information about professional development for your content-area co-teachers? Bringing together the necessary elements of EL education—high standards, effective instructional principles, assessment, research, policies, and professional development—in a coherent and consistent manner can present a challenge for schools and districts.

How does a district effectively provide an EL advocacy tool that is comprehensive, responsive to the local context, and accessible to a wide body of stakeholders in ELs’ education (e.g., families, teachers, administrators, community members)?

An EL master plan that is specifically tailored for a district is a solution that can help create a shared understanding for EL programming and instruction. An EL master plan can combine the district’s policies and procedures for the teaching and learning of ELs and lay out a clear and attainable roadmap for supporting ELs in reaching their full academic potential. In this article, we present ten key components of an effective EL master plan, grounded in the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights’ guidance document “Developing Programs for English Language Learners” and Understanding Language’s “Six Key Principles for ELL Instruction” (2013). However, our ten key components expand on these concepts and integrate our expertise as EL practitioners. For each component, we describe what it is and why it is important to include in an EL master plan.

1.Identification Process
Ensuring language learners experience a coherent, articulated, and aligned set of practices and pathways across contexts begins with the identification process. Collaboration between central office staff, registrars, and ESOL staff is crucial during this process so that ELs are appropriately identified and their level of English proficiency is accurately assessed. A master plan should address the procedures for administering a home language survey and when and how it will be determined that a student will be given an assessment of English language proficiency. These initial steps are important, as they determine the appropriate instructional services students will need to meet their full academic potential. Appropriate processes also need to be in place for reclassifying ELs and supporting them on pathways to college and career success.

2.Research-Based Program Models
Decisions about EL program models should be based on a variety of factors and through consultation with teachers and administrators as well as other community stakeholders.

A successful EL master plan will provide options for current, effective, research-based program models for ELs and also outline support for ensuring fidelity of model implementation (see Sugarman, 2018, for an in-depth discussion of program models for K–12 education). Both practical considerations (e.g., availability of educators with the requisite certifications) and ideological considerations (e.g., the desire of the local community for students to participate in a dual-language program) should be examined, as decisions are made in a collaborative, thoughtful process.

Leveraging the results of both summative and formative assessments allows for the design of appropriate programming and instruction that supports EL students’ growth. Analyzing English language proficiency test results to accurately measure progress and growth is an effective use of data to drive instruction and appropriately designate exit status. EL master plans can also outline how formative assessment is used in the classroom to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback that can be used by educators to determine where students are excelling and where they are struggling.
In order to use formative assessment effectively with ELs, it is important for teachers to attend simultaneously to students’ strengths and needs both in learning content and in developing the language skills required to express their learning (Heritage, Walqui, and Linquanti, 2013).

4. Effective Instructional Approaches
Addressing the district’s goals for ELs involves ensuring implementation of culturally and linguistically responsive instruction. Educators must consider both the strengths and the language development needs of all ELs, including students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE), newcomers, and long-term English learners (LTELs). Culturally and linguistically responsive instruction draws on ELs’ home language(s), cultural assets, and background knowledge, regarding them as assets to be used by educators in bridging new concepts to prior concepts and in making content comprehensible and meaningful (Understanding Language, 2013). A comprehensive approach to instruction also includes providing intellectually engaging and developmentally appropriate experiences that facilitate development of English proficiency, target-language proficiency (if appropriate), and successful academic achievement. In addition, scheduling and grouping for ELs should always account for students’ diverse and complex linguistic and cultural identities.

5.Staffing and Resources
Planning the appropriate dedicated staff and resources is a crucial piece of designing successful EL services. Having highly qualified teachers, administrators, and specialists who hold students’ home languages and cultures in high esteem provides an educational experience that promotes equity for all students and the access to the curriculum that all students deserve. Developing or enhancing staffing formulas and designing master schedules to support EL instruction and teachers’ collaborative planning time can ensure that appropriate personnel are in place to adequately support the growth of ELs. When considering staffing and resources, an EL master plan will help articulate the factors that have been integrated (e.g., EL proficiency levels, program models) in making staffing allocations.

6.ELs’ Access to Other Programs
Providing ELs with equitable access to your curriculum includes the ability to enroll them into programs such as gifted and talented programs ( (Gubbins et al., 2018), Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes, International Baccalaureate programs, and other magnet courses, career and technical education, or specialized courses of study. Examining entry procedures and ensuring that multiple assessment tools free of cultural and linguistic bias are used in the identification of students for entry into specialized programs can support ELs’ participation in such programs and allow them to maximize their potential for linguistic growth, achievement in the content areas, and a path toward high school graduation.

7.Monitoring ELs’ and Former ELs’ Progress
Monitoring the progress of ELs, including LTELs and reclassified students, is a collaborative effort across all levels of a district, including the classroom, school, and district or central office. Classroom teachers are at the core of student monitoring; teachers can keep a pulse on ELs’ current performance in the classroom, modifying instructional approaches as needed. Teachers and administrators should regularly review outcomes of EL student performance relative to expected linguistic and academic progress. The central office provides schools with monitoring oversight and support, following established processes to monitor ELs’ progress, including the progress of LTEL and reclassified students. It is important to have an understanding of how students exited from EL status are performing in order to see the successes, provide ongoing support where necessary, and modify approaches to educating students currently designated as ELs.

8.Family and Community Engagement
Establishing and maintaining strong, collaborative relationships with EL families and communities is important since the active involvement of family and community members in the work of the schools is essential to high achievement for all students, especially ELs (e.g., Barr and Saltmarsh, 2014; Georgis et al., 2014). An EL master plan can provide successful strategies the district will use for including families of ELs in supporting their education in a meaningful way that respects their backgrounds, languages, and cultures. We believe that families, as children’s first teachers, are essential partners and assets in the overall educational achievement of their children.

9.Professional Development for All Teachers
Ensuring educators in all roles at all grade levels are engaged in ongoing professional development will better prepare them to recognize the strengths and meet the needs of the district’s culturally and linguistically diverse students. As the number of ELs has grown to nearly 4.9 million, representing approximately 10% of the students

in U.S. public schools (Office of English Language Acquisition, 2018), the urgency is increasing for districts to take adequate steps to actively develop all teachers with the skills needed to teach ELs. All students deserve equitable access to the curriculum, and as such they need teachers, administrators, and specialists who hold students’ home languages and cultures in high esteem and provide an educational experience that promotes equity for all students, including ELs (Staehr Fenner, 2014; Staehr Fenner and Snyder, 2017). Including plans for professional development for all staff who work with ELs or will work with them in the future ensures that ELs remain a part of critical conversations at the school and district levels.

10.Program Evaluation
Evaluating a district’s progress and success in serving its ELs can effectively identify areas that are meeting or exceeding expectations, as well as areas that need improvement. An EL master plan can outline how annual evaluations can monitor the implementation of all system inputs and instructional practices, measure annual program outcomes, and evaluate longitudinal progress toward the overall program goals. Consistent evaluation practices can foster internal accountability for all educators and stakeholders for implementation, outcomes, and continuous improvement that will benefit ELs. Incorporating these ten key components in an EL master plan and customizing it to align with the district’s other strategic planning and policy documents can foster a shared sense of accountability among stakeholders in a community and lay out a clear path for a comprehensive approach to educating ELs.
Joanna Duggan ([email protected]) is a project manager at SupportEd, where she applies her experience in teaching English learners from around the globe and working in applied linguistics research to technical assistance projects. Teddi Predaris ([email protected]) is a senior consultant at SupportEd, lending her expertise developed during her tenure at Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia, as the director of the Office of Language Acquisition and Title I and in assisting other school districts across the country in developing their EL master plans. Portions of this article were adapted from our blog post, SupportEd’s “10 Keys for Developing an English Learner Master Plan” ( 2019).

Barr, J., and Saltmarsh, S. (2014). “It All Comes Down to the Leadership: The role of the school principal in fostering parent–school engagement.” Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42(4), 491–505.

Georgis, R., Gokiert, R. J., Ford, D. M., and Ali, M. (2014, spring/summer). “Creating Inclusive Parent Engagement Practices: Lessons learned from a school community collaborative supporting newcomer refugee families.” Multicultural Education, 23–27.

Gubbins, E. J., Siegle, D., Hamilton, R., Peters, P., Carpenter, A. Y., O’Rourke, P., . . . Estepar-Garcia, W. (2018). Exploratory Study on the Identification of English Learners for Gifted and Talented Programs. Storrs: University of Connecticut, National Center for Research on Gifted Education.

Heritage, M., Walqui, A., and Linquanti, R. (2013). “Formative Assessment as Contingent Teaching and Learning: Perspectives on assessment as and for language learning in the content areas.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, California.

Office of Civil Rights. (n.d.) “Developing a Program for English Language Learners: Introduction.”

Office of English Language Acquisition. (2018). “Profiles of English Learners.”

Staehr Fenner, D. (2014). Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Staehr Fenner, D., and Snyder, S. (2017). Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sugarman, J. (2018). A Matter of Design: English Learner Program Models in K–12 Education. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.

Understanding Language. (2013). “Key Principles for ELL Instruction.”

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