Teachers in Iowa and across the nation are facing the added challenge of engaging English Language Learners (ELLs) in language instruction while helping them achieve successful educational outcomes. With support from Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs), the state’s schools and educators are becoming more equipped and confident to meet ELLs’ diverse learning needs.
“Across the state, a network of AEA individuals dedicated to the success of ELLs participate in ongoing, regular meetings to plan how to uniformly serve children in the state and ensure school districts’ compliance with Title III mandates,” Stephaney Jones-Vo, Heartland AEA ESL/Diversity consultant, said. “This work is accomplished under the leadership of Dr. Jobi Lawrence, Director of Title III and Education Consultant at the Iowa Department of Education.”
Meeting the needs of the ELLs is a large task since ELLs are one of the fastest growing sub-groups in Iowa. According to 2011-2012 data, over 25,000 ELLs attend schools in Iowa, and in some districts, ELLs make up 75 percent of the student population.
“The need to build capacity in school districts among classroom and ELL teachers is great,” Jones-Vo said. “We’re talking about a large population of K-12 students that not only needs to develop English language skills, but also needs to develop content-based knowledge and skills rooted in the Iowa Core.”
Under Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are required to establish Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs) to make sure that limited English proficient children are making progress in mastering the English language and meeting the same rigorous standards that all children are expected to meet.
ELLs’ progress is calculated in large part by the Iowa English Language Development Assessment (I-ELDA). Students identified as an ELL take the I-ELDA each spring which assesses students’ proficiency and growth in reading, writing, speaking and listening in academic English. As the state’s control center for I-ELDA testing, Northwest AEA organizes the distribution of assessment materials, scoring of student assessments and reporting of the scores back to the districts.
After scores are reported, Title III requires that districts notify families, in their appropriate languages, of the districts’ progress on meeting their AMAOs. This year, the AEAs and sub-grantees collaborated to provide a standard template letter in over 14 languages that districts could personalize, insert their data and send to families.
In the event that AMAOs are not met, districts are required to write a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). Often times districts turn to their AEA for opportunities to educate staff on best practices and ways to enhance ELL efforts.
“We host our quarterly ELL Advisory groups at Heartland,” Jones-Vo said. “These are excellent opportunities for all teachers and administrators to network and learn about professional development opportunities, strategies they can use in the classroom and information about mini grants that districts can apply for to purchase materials that support ELLs in the classroom and promote parent engagement.”
Districts’ capacity building comes from extensive professional development opportunities through AEAs. Over the course of the year, AEAs and their partners provide resources, host conferences, teach courses and commission experts to help educators learn more about meeting the needs of ELLs.
The two largest professional development events in Iowa that support ELL learning are the Our Kids Summer Institute held in the summer and the Iowa Culture and Language Conference (ICLC) in the fall. Both serve as opportunities for AEA staff, administrators and teachers across the state to learn together about strategies for increasing the achievement of ELLs and supporting them in reaching their full potential.
As Iowa’s ELL population growth continues to outpace the population growth of Iowa’s non-ELL students, the need to provide teachers and administrators with meaningful strategies and information related to ELLs continues to grow. With the support of the AEAs, schools are developing and implementing new, research-based responses to address their increasing challenges.