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Update on English Language Learners: Educator Preparation and Training Required for Sheltered English Immersion

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
December 9, 2011

On September 27, 2011, the Board directed me to develop options for the preparation and training of teachers of academic content to English Language Learners. The purpose of this memorandum is to update the Board on the progress we have made to date on this "Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners" (RETELL) initiative.

Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Professional Development

Question 2, an initiative petition approved by voters in 2002, requires that, in the absence of a waiver requested by a parent, or participation in a two-way bilingual program, all English Language Learners (ELLs) shall receive nearly all academic classroom instruction in English. This instructional approach is called Sheltered English Immersion (SEI). In 2010 our Department initiated a review of the seven-year-old training program for teachers who deliver academic content in SEI settings and we commissioned WestEd, a national research and development organization, to study the program.1 Both the WestEd report and the letter we received from the U.S. Department of Justice2 a few months ago have confirmed shortcomings in the preparation and training of SEI academic content teachers.

As we discussed at our September meeting, strengthening skills and knowledge for SEI academic content teachers makes sense in light of the increasing number and percentage of ELLs in Massachusetts schools, our work with school and district turnaround, and our mission to close proficiency gaps. We are moving expeditiously to overcome the shortcomings that have been identified. I have established the following criteria for any new requirements that I would consider proposing to the Board:

  • What we expect and require of educators must have solid grounding in research;
  • We must be confident that our plan will have a positive impact on ELL student achievement; and
  • The implementation of our plan must be feasible.

At our December 20 meeting I will update the Board on the progress we have made to date on this initiative, which includes:

  1. Your vote on the FY2013 budget proposal at our November meeting, highlighting for the Governor and Legislature the need for significant additional state funding to support this effort;
  2. An analysis of the performance and distribution of ELLs in schools and at different grade levels across the state and how this will inform our recommended plan of action;
  3. A survey of ESE-approved educator preparation programs to document the current state of efforts to ensure graduates are prepared to effectively instruct and support the success of ELLs;
  4. Our outreach to secure the input and suggestions of Massachusetts educators;
  5. Progress on the transition from our current standards and assessment of English language acquisition (Massachusetts English Proficiency Assessment or MEPA) to the World- Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA);
  6. The "Commissioner's Panel on English Language Learner Instruction" that I have convened;
  7. Improvements we are making to the competencies that aspiring and incumbent SEI teachers must possess in order to teach ELLs effectively and that comprise the foundation for related courses and professional development;
  8. The current provisions for the approval of educator preparation programs, awarding of educator licenses, and renewal of educator licenses at the Professional stage that likely will need to be amended in order to achieve our goals for improved ELL teaching and learning.

Senior Associate Commissioner Bob Bickerton and Esta Montano, Director of our Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement, will join us for the discussion at the December 20 meeting. Building upon the additional insights and feedback that the Board provides at the meeting, early in the new year the Department will reach out to stakeholders across the state, including educators, administrators, unions and professional associations, and institutions of higher education, to more fully communicate the goals of this initiative and elicit their recommendations. We have set an ambitious timeline to present proposed regulations to the Board for initial review in February 2012. I look forward to updating you on our progress.


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Membership roster for the Commissioner's Panel on English Language Learner Instruction

Last Updated: December 15, 2011
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