The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

RETELL Update: Overview of Pilot and Spring Program Implementation

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D, Commissioner
September 13, 2013

In order to improve instruction for English Language Learners (ELLs) and, ultimately, to improve their achievement, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) introduced the Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners (RETELL) initiative. Under regulations voted by the Board in June 2012, all core academic teachers of ELLs in the Commonwealth and the principals, assistant principals, and supervisors/directors who supervise or evaluate them, are required to obtain a Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) Teacher or Administrator Endorsement, respectively. The SEI Endorsement is evidence that the teacher has the knowledge and skills necessary to provide SEI instruction, and that the administrator has the knowledge and skills to supervise and evaluate such teachers.


The regulations establish four paths to earn the SEI endorsement:

  1. Successful completion of an SEI Endorsement course;
  2. Possession of an ESL/ELL (English as a Second Language/English Language Learners) educator license;
  3. Passing the SEI MTEL (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure) test (that this test is in development and the Department anticipates it will be available in the spring of 2014); or
  4. Possession of an applicable degree, for example: bachelor's or graduate level degree in Applied Linguistics, Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), or Language, Literacy and Culture.

Most educators will earn the SEI Endorsement through completing professional development in SEI methods. The Department developed the SEI Teacher Endorsement Course, drawing on input from ELL experts in higher education, the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL), current and former district leaders of English as a second-language (ESL), and the U.S. Department of Justice. With support from the Education Alliance at Brown University, the Department has also developed an SEI Administrator Endorsement Course, which was piloted in the summer of 2013, and two shorter versions of the SEI Teacher Endorsement Course, referred to as "Bridge courses," which will be delivered this fall.

After piloting the SEI Teacher Endorsement course in fall 2012, the Department rolled out the course to multiple sites in 71 districts in spring 2013. As of September 12, 2013:

SEI Course and Instructor Evaluations and Report

We arranged for several evaluations, during the pilot and spring implementation phase, including an external and internal evaluation of the SEI course and instructors, an instructor feedback survey, and two critiques of the SEI course syllabus by university professors.

The largest evaluative effort was an independent evaluation by American Institutes for Research (AIR), titled An Evaluation of the 2013 Massachusetts Teacher SEI Endorsement Courses (see attached executive summary). Data were collected primarily from 18 sites, including 36 SEI course observations of the instructor-led sessions (two per site), 18 participant focus groups (one per site), midcourse surveys of 231 participants at 16 sites, and six observations of the student participants leading their own classrooms at two sites. Final survey data were collected from 795 participants. (Not all sites had finished their surveys in time for the final report, as their classes ended late in the semester.)

The Department's Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement (OELAAA) also conducted an evaluation of SEI instructors during the spring of 2013 through class observations. In total, our staff observed 73 SEI course sections running in 18 public schools and seven charter schools across the commonwealth. They rated instructors using an internally developed observation tool and had access to online course materials to become familiar with the content of the session they were to observe and to assess instructor feedback to participants. Wherever concerns about instructor performance arose, instructors were observed multiple times and were provided feedback to improve instruction. In one instance, performance did not improve sufficiently and an instructor was non-renewed.

Our OELAAA staff also developed and administered a survey to SEI instructors to get their feedback on the course. Through the survey, instructors shared their opinions on the efficacy of the course as well as feedback on specific lessons and assignments.

Finally, the SEI endorsement course syllabus and curriculum materials were reviewed by Professors Nonie Lesaux from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Esther DeJong from the University of Florida, both leaders in this field. Notes from the survey and meetings were documented and are summarized below.

Findings and Recommendations

Below, we summarize the most common points reported in the evaluations. Feedback from instructors and students was summarized from the SEI course survey and the AIR report.

Feedback from the instructors included the following:

SEI course participants (core academic teachers) shared that:

AIR recommended that the program should:

The professors reviewed the content of the course, rather than the pacing. Recommendations from Professor Lesaux (who commended the revisions of the course materials thus far) and Professor DeJong included:

Steps Taken in Response to Findings and Recommendations

Over the last eight months, Department staff and partners have made several revisions of the syllabus and the structure of the course to put these improvements in place. Many evaluative findings and recommendations have already been implemented and the remainder will be addressed in the new courses to be rolled out this fall.

  1. With the assistance of districts, the Department has communicated extensively and in a timely fashion with teachers and administrators to lay out the SEI Endorsement requirements and how those requirements can be met. Last spring, districts played a major role in facilitating the enrollment of teachers in SEI Teacher Endorsement courses. This approach led to stress in the field, enrollment errors, and under-enrollment. For fall 2013 and beyond, the Department has implemented a new online registration system which provides detailed guidance to registrants, and enables individual educators to self-enroll in courses that fit their personal schedules. As a result, approximately 10,000 eligible educators have enrolled thus far in SEI Endorsement courses for 2013-14.

  2. Many steps have been taken to address feedback that the course was too rushed:
    • All full courses are now spread over a full semester or the entire school year. Course sessions in all courses are now scheduled far enough apart to allow participants time to practice strategies and complete other assignments and readings.
    • Early sessions addressing knowledge of ELLs and the language acquisition theory have been shortened to make more time for practice and online sessions have been redesigned to focus on background content. As a result, during practice-oriented face-to-face sessions addressing academic language and literacy development, less time is required for lectures and there is time for an enhanced focus on strategy modeling and practice, discussion, and reflection.
    • The number of PowerPoint slides has been reduced to allow more time for modeling, practice and feedback.
    • The volume of required course readings has been significantly and judiciously reduced. Course readings were made available to registrants at the time of registration; course participants were invited to get a jump start on the reading at any time between early August and their course start date.

  3. The redesigned course maximizes the focus on a "model, practice, feedback" loop. More time is available for each phase of this cycle. Teachers will have regular opportunities to practice SEI strategies in the SEI course, and then again as they deliver lessons in their own classrooms.

  4. Online sessions have been redesigned from the ground up with the support of an expert in online course delivery who has helped ensure that content is engaging and effectively delivered.

  5. Various steps have been taken to make the courses user-friendly and accessible.
    • The course is now supported by UMass Online, a very experienced and highly regarded provider of online courses.
    • Participants will now have 24/7 access to a customer support service.
    • The "Blackboard" platform utilized by UMass Online provides many additional tools and resources for course participants that support their different learning styles and needs. Through Blackboard, course materials will be readily accessible to course participants.

  6. Assignments have been built into the SEI Teacher courses which encourage collaborative planning and reflection around SEI implementation; the SEI Administrator course encourages supervisors to provide teachers with the opportunity to continue and expand the scope of such professional learning community activity.

  7. Course sessions have been redesigned to support teachers to integrate the sheltering of reading, writing and vocabulary instruction, and to focus on oral and written discourse.

Next Steps

The evaluation of this course has been formative. As data have revealed areas which could be improved and those which have worked well, the Department has made adjustments accordingly. In the near term, we will continue to assess and revise the courses as appropriate. Complementary research will need to address interim outcomes (such as changes in teacher practice) and will continue to inform the revisions to the SEI Endorsement courses and the Department's strategies to extend learning about SEI after the Endorsement courses conclude. Longer term, student assessment data will provide important indications of the efficacy of the RETELL initiative.

I will continue to update the Board periodically on our progress with the SEI Endorsement courses and related aspects of the RETELL initiative.