Applying early learning standards and language standards when assessing and instructing young dual language learners

08/21/2013  |  By ERIN ARANGO-ESCALANTE and RUTH REINL
English Language Learners
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The field of Early Care and Education has not been exempt from today’s world of educational accountability and its accompanying push to improve academic achievement for all students — including those who are learning English as another language. Since the Obama administration launched the Zero to Five Plan, interest and research regarding the importance of high quality preschool programs that are guided by Early Learning Standards (ELS) and measured in part by Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEAs) has intensified. With its emphasis on “leveling the playing field for students of all backgrounds,” this federal initiative has pushed many states to develop or re-examine their state’s ELS to ensure that they do in fact “fit” the linguistic and cultural needs of all children, birth to five years, in early care and education programs.

Language standards provide a means for helping to close the gap that currently exists in delivering accurate and relevant instruction and assessment to young dual language learners at varying levels of English language development within standards-based curriculum.

Implementing ELS in a cohesive, collaborative and data-driven manner for young dual language learners — children who are developing their home language as they acquire English — remains a pressing issue for many states. Early care and education leaders across the nation are asking the million dollar question, “How do states apply early learning standards to instructing and assessing dual language learners, especially if those standards have been developed with monolingual English speakers in mind?”

At this critical juncture in states’ ELS development and revision process, experts in the field, including World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) — a 31 state consortium that specializes in supporting, instructing and assessing students, Pre-Kindergarten thru grade 12, who are learning English as an additional language — are seeking answers to this important question.

Are the Use of Early Learning Standards Alone Effective for Assessing and Instructing Dual Language Learners?

States’ ELS outline developmentally appropriate expectations and skills that all children should know and be able to do upon entry to kindergarten — including children who are dual language learners. As such, states’ ELS act as a fundamental guide for curriculum planning, assessment, and instruction of all children during the preschool years. Five major developmental areas that are linked to school readiness and children’s later success in school have been identified by the National Educational Goals Panel (NEGP) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) as important for inclusion in state ELS: physical, social and emotional, approaches to learning, language, and cognition.

The Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework incorporates these recommended dimensions of development and learning while states’ ELS incorporate important attributes of these recommended dimensions to varying degrees. In theory, and hopefully in practice, early care and education programs then select and develop curricula that align with their states’ ELS to instruct and assess children in their programs. Of course, using standards-based curricula is meant to help ensure that practitioners are teaching and assessing children on the skills and knowledge they will need upon entry to kindergarten.

Unfortunately, a strong potential for inaccuracy still exists when using standards-based curricula for assessing, supporting and instructing young dual language learners. This is due in part to the “disconnect” between dual language learners’ linguistic variations and the performance benchmarks or indicators of many states’ ELS which have been developed with monolingual learners in mind. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately assess dual language learners’ progress across many states’ ELS without a means for ascertaining how their level of English language development affects and relates to their performance in the different content areas. It is equally difficult to support and instruct dual language learners if practitioners lack guidance about the kinds of social and academic language these children are able to process and produce at differing levels of English language development within the content areas.

Importance of Using Language Standards in Conjunction with Early Learning Standards for Dual Language Learners

As every early childhood professional knows, language learning occurs across all areas of standards-based curricula — not just within the area of language development or early literacy. Consequently, it is critical that early care and education programs use language standards in conjunction with ELS when supporting, instructing and assessing young dual language learners.

What are language standards? Language standards identify and describe the social and academic language that dual language learners need to process and produce in order to succeed in meeting states’ ELS. Simply put, language standards always refer to “the language of” early learning standards (e.g. “the language of social-emotional development).

Using language standards in conjunction with ELS helps practitioners concretely connect the linguistic variations and needs of young dual language learners across all content areas of standards-based curricula and assessments. As such, language standards provide a means for helping to close the gap that currently exists in delivering accurate and relevant instruction and assessment to young dual language learners at varying levels of English language development within standards-based curriculum.

WIDA’s Response to Growing Need for Supporting and Assessing Young Dual Language Learners

WIDA has created six Early English Language Development (EELD) standards which correspond to the major dimensions of development and learning recommended by NEGP and NAEYC and which have been adopted by states to varying degrees in their ELS. These EELD standards include “the language of ...”:

  • Social-Emotional Development
  • Early Language and Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Physical Development

The language of “Approaches to Learning” is incorporated throughout the six EELD standards (see figure 1 on previous page).

The EELD standards framework describes the social and academic language that dual language learners, ages two and one-half to five and one-half years, need to process and produce in order to succeed in meeting performance benchmarks or indicators within states’ ELS. Because of the correspondence with states’ ELS, it is possible to easily integrate the EELD standards within standards-based curriculum when instructing and assessing dual language learners in a variety of early care and education program settings including Head Start, Child Care, Preschool, and 4 Year-Old Kindergarten. It is hoped that WIDA’s EELD standards framework serves an important first step in filling the gap that currently exists for delivering culturally and linguistically responsive and relevant standards-based instruction and assessment for young dual language learners.

For more information please refer to WIDA’s Early English Language Development Standards webpage athttp://wida.us/standards/eeld.aspx.
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