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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on RETELL Initiative

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
February 15, 2013


The RETELL initiative, "Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners," is the comprehensive strategy of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) to close the proficiency gap for English Language Learners (ELLs). ELLs are the only rapidly growing segment of our state's K-12 student population. The Department greatly accelerated this work when the U.S. Department of Justice notified us in July 2011 that under federal civil rights law, we must mandate professional standards for educators who provide sheltered English instruction (SEI) to ELLs and require incumbent SEI teachers to participate in updated SEI training to obtain the essential knowledge and skills needed to provide that instruction. In June 2012, after extensive outreach to the field, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) adopted regulations to strengthen teaching and learning for ELLs.

The Department has acted quickly to make available high quality training so that all core academic teachers of ELLs earn the newly created SEI Endorsement. We estimate 26,000 teachers at present, and the number is growing. The program begins on February 25, 2013 and runs through August 2016. Districts will participate in the trainings in three cohorts, starting in those districts with the highest incidence of ELLs and the greatest achievement gaps.

The Department has taken the following steps to ensure the success of this initiative:

Launching the Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Licensure Endorsement Course

  • A team including staff from the Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement (OELAAA) and content experts in the field has been collaborating on revisions to the SEI Teacher Endorsement course piloted last summer and fall. Participants who successfully complete this course will earn the SEI Endorsement to their educator license.
  • OELAAA has been vetting and selecting experienced professionals from around the state who have applied to be instructors for the course.
  • The Department developed an online registration tool that Cohort 1 districts are using to schedule and enroll teachers in course sections. Starting the week of February 25th, 45 hours of graduate-level SEI training will commence for the first 3000 core academic teachers of English language learners (ELLs) in districts assigned to Cohort 1, Year 1 of training.
  • For fall 2013, the Department is developing shorter SEI Endorsement courses for teachers who already completed significant components of SEI preparedness through the Department's now-retired Category Training program.
  • Over the next six months, the Department will develop an SEI Endorsement course for an estimated 8,000 administrators, which will be piloted in the summer and implemented on a larger scale starting in fall 2013.
  • At my request, the Secretary of Education, Commissioner of Higher Education, President of UMass, and CIO of the Education Secretariat have agreed to establish a partnership with our Department and UMass Online. This will enable us to use UMass's enterprise-level learning management and course registration systems to facilitate and enhance the implementation of the SEI Endorsement courses and, over time, to make more high quality online learning opportunities available to Massachusetts educators.
  • The Department is developing protocols for SEI Endorsement course program quality assurance.

Extending the Learning

  • Department staff are developing strategies to ensure that teachers have varied, meaningful opportunities to continue deepening their knowledge of SEI practices beyond the conclusion of the SEI Endorsement course. Approaches to extending the learning include:
    • Development of a training program to prepare literacy and math coaches and others to integrate SEI strategies into their instructional coaching work.
    • Plans for a series of SEI conferences and short courses where teachers can come together to explore and celebrate creative and effective approaches to instruction for ELLs.
    • Establishment of an online Professional Learning Network where teachers can share challenges, strategies and resources with role-alike colleagues around the state.

Development of an SEI MTEL test

  • In accordance with the regulations, the Department has directed its MTEL contractor, Pearson, Inc., to develop an SEI MTEL test. This test is under development, and will be ready in spring 2014 as an alternative route to the SEI Endorsement.

Incorporating SEI training into educator preparation program curricula

  • As of July 1, 2014, an SEI Endorsement will be required to obtain an Initial License as a core academic teacher, and for an Initial License as a principal or other Administrative License leading to supervision and evaluation of core academic teachers. The Department is providing the state's approved educator preparation programs with resources to assist them in revising their syllabi, such as the Teachers' SEI Endorsement course syllabus that the Department developed for incumbent educators. In March 2013, the Department will host a two-day training for program faculty to learn more about that curriculum.

WIDA Implementation

As part of RETELL, we are participating in the World-class Instructional Assessment and Design (WIDA) consortium and have adopted the WIDA English Language Development (ELD) standards. WIDA is a consortium of 31 states and territories; it focuses on academic language development and academic achievement for linguistically diverse students through high quality standards, assessments, research, and professional development for educators. The WIDA ELD standards promote academic language proficiency in four content areas - language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies - and thus provide a foundation of standards that support the success of ELLs in school. WIDA also provides a host of tools and resources educators can use to differentiate instruction for ELLs and promote their academic language development.

Over the last six months, the Department has sponsored basic WIDA trainings to equip district leaders to train other educators on the WIDA standards. These trainings will continue through the spring. In late spring 2013, the Department will provide more advanced WIDA trainings to equip district curriculum leaders for the process of integrating WIDA standards into local curricula. In addition, WIDA consultants are working through the District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs) and in the Commissioner's districts to provide training on the components, tools and resources of the WIDA framework to targeted districts across the state.

ACCESS for ELLs testing (January-February 2013)

We are currently testing more than 71,000 ELL students for English language proficiency in 1,600 schools and 338 districts, using the WIDA-ACCESS for ELLs test for the first time. This test is given in other WIDA member states throughout the year. In this first year of implementation in Massachusetts, the Student Assessment office has trained 943 principals and test coordinators, who in turn facilitated online training in their schools and districts for 8,670 test administrators. Outreach and preparation has been extensive over the past year; Department staff members met with more than 300 district ELL program directors to provide assessment updates and respond to questions and concerns. Test results will be reported in early May, one month earlier than on previous statewide English proficiency tests. We will prepare guidance for schools and districts in summer 2013 based on comparisons with test results from the previous year.

Through the Office of the Attorney General, the Department has communicated regularly with the U.S. Department of Justice to provide updates and discuss our progress on these efforts.

I will continue to update the Board on the RETELL initiative periodically. If you have questions or would like additional information, please contact me.

Last Updated: February 19, 2013
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