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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
May 10, 2013


At the meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) on May 21, 2013, I will provide an update on the RETELL initiative, "Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners," with a focus on the roll-out of Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) training. RETELL 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 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. I convened a panel of eight highly regarded national and state experts in the education of ELLs to provide guidance and feedback as we worked to develop the RETELL initiative. In June 2012, after extensive outreach to the field, the 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 that 26,000 teachers currently instruct ELLs in core academic subjects, and that number is growing. The SEI endorsement training program began for approximately 2,000 teachers on February 25, 2013. The training will ramp up significantly in 2013-14, when approximately 9,000 educators are slated for training. The program will continue through August 2016. Three cohorts of districts will participate in the trainings, starting in those districts with the highest incidence of ELLs and the greatest achievement gaps. Participants who successfully complete the 45-hour graduate-level course will earn the SEI endorsement to their educator license.

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

Launching the Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Licensure Endorsement Courses

  • The Department contracted with researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in 2012 to draft the first edition of the SEI teacher endorsement course syllabus. After the course was piloted in the summer and fall of 2012, a team including Department staff from our Office for English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement and content experts in the field collaborated on revising the syllabus. Following this spring's roll-out, we will again review the course syllabus and feedback from participants and revise the course further if needed, before it is implemented more broadly in fall 2013.

  • Throughout spring 2013, Department staff with teaching and learning expertise visited every SEI endorsement course section, observing and evaluating instruction. Starting in fall 2013, budget permitting, the Department will employ contractors to ensure that instruction is consistently effective across all course sections.

  • The Department has been vetting and selecting experienced professionals from around the state who have applied to be instructors for the course. We currently have 86 pre-approved instructors, and are reviewing 64 additional applications.

  • For fall 2013, the Department is developing two shorter "bridge" SEI endorsement courses for teachers who have already completed significant components of SEI professional development through the Department's now-retired Category Training program.

  • In fall 2013, the Department will also roll out the SEI endorsement course for a subset of the estimated 8,000 administrators who supervise and evaluate SEI teachers. We are about to start recruiting instructors for this course.

Developing the Technology Infrastructure for Online Professional Development

  • " As part of the Department's support for the field, we have been providing an increased range of professional development to educators through online courses. To strengthen this delivery mode, we have worked with the Secretary of Education, Commissioner of Higher Education, President of the University of Massachusetts, and the Chief Information Officer of the Education Secretariat to establish a partnership between 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. Over time, it will boost our capacity to deliver more high quality and cost-effective online learning opportunities to Massachusetts educators.

Extending the Learning

  • Research shows that improvements in educational practice result from sustained, practice-embedded professional development. The Department is developing strategies to provide educators with varied, meaningful opportunities to deepen their SEI knowledge and skills after they complete the SEI endorsement course. Approaches to extending the learning include:

    • Designing a training program to prepare literacy and math coaches and others to integrate SEI strategies into their instructional coaching work.
    • Training English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers on ways to help their teaching colleagues build their SEI skills, and as lead advocates for ELLs and their families.
    • Planning a series of shorter SEI courses for teachers to delve more deeply into aspects of SEI introduced in the SEI endorsement courses. Districts will be able to contract for these courses using their federal Title IIA and Title III funds.
    • Establishing an online Professional Learning Network where teachers can share challenges, strategies, and resources with role-alike colleagues around the state.

Developing an SEI MTEL test

  • The regulations that the Board adopted in 2012 provide several routes for educators to earn the SEI endorsement, besides successfully completing the SEI endorsement course. One such route is by passing a Department-approved assessment. The Department has conducted an extensive search for and evaluation of assessments of teacher SEI knowledge and skills that other states use. Unfortunately, these tests focus primarily on the teaching of English as a Second Language (ESL) and offer limited coverage of the SEI competencies adopted by the Board in the June 2012 regulations. Therefore, 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 now and will be ready in spring 2014 as an alternative route to earn 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, or as a principal/assistant principal, or as a supervisor-director who will supervise or evaluate core academic teachers. The Department has provided approved educator preparation programs in the Commonwealth with resources to assist them in revising their syllabi, such as the Teachers' and Administrators' SEI Endorsement Course syllabi developed for incumbent educators. In March 2013, the Department hosted a 2-day training for program faculty to learn more about the teachers' SEI curriculum.

WIDA Implementation

  • The Department joined the multi-state World-class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) consortium in 2012. The newly adopted WIDA English Language Development (ELD) standards are a key component of the RETELL initiative. The WIDA standards, which encompass the four core content areas, aim to promote the academic achievement of ELLs by providing tools for teachers to make content more accessible and promote academic language development for all language learners. We will be working with districts to revise content area curricula to reflect the WIDA standards.

  • The Department has sponsored several WIDA trainings to equip district leaders and educators with knowledge and skills for integrating the WIDA standards into curriculum. The Department has organized seven 3-day Basic WIDA Training of Trainers sessions and five additional 1-day or 2-day overviews in the 2012-2013 school year. Between April and June of 2013, the Department is also offering thirteen ELL Curriculum Development trainings across the state for district administrators and educators interested in learning more about how to integrate the WIDA ELD standards into curriculum. Representatives from 284 districts across the Commonwealth have had the opportunity to attend a WIDA training this school year.

  • WIDA consultants also continue 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. In the future, the Department plans to produce additional guidance about integrating WIDA into curriculum including exemplar Model Curriculum Units showcasing WIDA and a WIDA Implementation Guidance Document outlining key expectations for WIDA integration.

Implementation of ACCESS for ELLs

  • The ACCESS for ELLs test, based on the WIDA standards, is designed to measure students' progress in the areas of speaking, listening, reading, and writing English. Between 2005 and 2012, the Massachusetts English Proficiency Assessment (MEPA) was administered twice per year to measure the level of English proficiency of ELLs in kindergarten through grade 12. The ACCESS test replaces the MEPA, which is no longer administered. This school year, over a five-week administration period in January and February 2013, 71,419 ELLs from 1,580 schools and 349 districts participated for the first time in the ACCESS test. ACCESS is administered once per school year. To prepare for this undertaking, WIDA provided online training and certified nearly 9,000 local test administrators to administer the new tests. Based on a post-test survey completed in April, most educators considered the ACCESS for ELLs test administration to be "very manageable."

  • Schools will receive and analyze results in May 2013, in time to plan appropriate ELL programs and services for the next school year. Reports will provide schools with detailed information about how to address specific ELL language needs in English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies, thus highlighting the importance of collaboration between ESL and classroom SEI teachers.

  • Title III of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires states to report annually on the progress made by ELL students in attaining English language proficiency. The Department plans to produce several statistical studies this summer to link and compare the new ACCESS for ELLs results with 2012 MEPA data. On the basis of these studies, the Department will identify the most reliable method(s) for determining which students "made progress" in attaining English proficiency in 2013.

Looking Ahead

  • The Department continues to work closely with districts, professional associations, higher education, and other interested parties to ensure successful implementation of the RETELL initiative. We are also continuing our discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is closely monitoring our activities.

  • The House approved an appropriation of about $1.8 million for RETELL in FY 2014. This amount falls about $1.5 million short of the amount required to implement our commitment to expand RETELL to 8,000 to 9,000 educators in the 2013-14 school year. We are working with the Administration and the Legislature to secure the additional funding.

  • Proposed legislation would revise the Commonwealth's statutory framework for educating ELLs, establishing a broad array of educational program models and requiring school districts to adopt policies and plans for ELL instruction. We are reviewing the bill and will be working with the Administration and the Legislature as the legislative process continues. I will keep the Board informed on this and other legislative matters as they develop.

Senior Associate Commissioner Bob Bickerton, Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Landman, and other Department staff will join us at the Board meeting on May 21 to respond to your questions. We look forward to updating you on the RETELL initiative.

Last Updated: May 15, 2013
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