10 Keys for Developing an English Learner Master Plan

Have you ever wished for one common vehicle that brings together the necessary elements of English learner (EL) education: high-quality standards, effective instructional principles, assessment, research, and professional development? EL master plans provide a tool that is comprehensive, responsive to your  local context, and accessible to a wide body of stakeholders in multilingual learners’ education (e.g., families, teachers, administrators, community members). Developing a first EL Master Plan or revising an existing EL Master Plan specifically designed for your district can help create a shared understanding for EL programming and instruction and can provide a roadmap for supporting your ELs to reach their full academic potential. 

Infographic listing the 10 keys for developing an English learner master plan. 1. Identification Process, 2. Program Models, 3. Assessment, 4. Instructional Approaches, 5. Staffing, 6. Access to Other Programs, 7. Progress Monitoring, 8. Family and Community Engagement, 9. Professional Development, 10. Program Evaluation

The master plan development process should be customized to align with your district’s other strategic planning and policy documents. We developed the following ten key EL Master Plan components drawing from SupportEd’s experience in EL Master Plan creation and revision. The components are grounded in the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights’ guidance for Developing Programs for English Language Learners and Understanding Language’s Six Key Principles for ELL Instruction. For each component, we describe what it is and why it’s important to include in an EL Master Plan.

  EL Identification Process 

Ensuring language learners experience a coherent, articulated, and aligned set of practices and pathways across contexts begins with the identification process. It is crucial to collaborate with registrars and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) staff to enhance the EL intake process so that ELs are appropriately identified and their level of English proficiency is accurately assessed. Appropriate processes also need to be in place for reclassifying ELs and supporting them on pathways to college and career success.

   Research-Based EL Program Models

Making decisions about EL program models should be based on a variety of factors and through consultation with teachers and administrators as well as other community stakeholders. We recommend your EL Master Plan provide options for current, effective research-based program models for ELs and also outline support for ensuring fidelity of model implementation. Both practical considerations (e.g., availability of educators with the requisite certifications) and ideological considerations (e.g., the desire of the local community for students to participate in a dual language program) should be examined as decisions are made in a collaborative, thoughtful process.

  EL Assessment

Leveraging the results of both summative and formative assessments allows for the design of appropriate programming and instruction that supports EL students’ growth. Analyzing English language proficiency test results to accurately measure progress and growth is an effective use of data to drive instruction and appropriately designate exit status. EL Master Plans outline how formative assessment is used in the classroom to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback that can be used by educators to determine where students are excelling and struggling. In order to use formative assessment effectively with ELs, it is important for teachers to attend simultaneously to students’ strengths and needs both in learning content and in developing the language skills required to express their learning.

  Effective Instructional Approaches for ELs

Addressing your district’s goals for ELs involves ensuring implementation of culturally and linguistically responsive instruction. Educators must consider the strengths as well as language development needs of learners of all ELs, including students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE), newcomers, and long-term English learners (LTELs). A comprehensive approach to instruction includes providing intellectually engaging and developmentally appropriate experiences that facilitate development of English proficiency, target language proficiency (if appropriate), and successful academic achievement. In addition, scheduling and grouping for ELs should always account for students’ diverse and complex linguistic and cultural identities.

  Staffing and Resources

Planning the appropriate dedicated staff and resources is a crucial piece of designing successful EL services. Developing or enhancing staffing formulas and designing master schedules to support EL instruction and teachers’ collaborative planning time can ensure that appropriate personnel are in place to adequately support the growth of ELs. When considering your staffing and resources, an EL Master Plan will help you articulate the factors you have integrated (e.g., EL proficiency levels, program models) in making staffing allocations.

  ELs’ Access to Other Programs

Providing ELs with equitable access to your curriculum includes the ability to enroll them into programs such as gifted and talented programs, Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes, International Baccalaureate programs, and other magnet or specialized courses of study. Examining entry procedures and ensuring that multiple assessment tools free of cultural and linguistic bias are used in the identification of students for entry in specialized programs can support ELs’ participation to such programs and allow them to maximize their potential for linguistic growth, achievement in the content areas, and a path toward high school graduation.

  Monitoring ELs’ and Former ELs’ Progress

Monitoring the progress of ELs, including LTELs and reclassified students, is a collaborative effort across all levels of a district, including the classroom, school, and district or central office. Classroom teachers are at the core of student monitoring; teachers can keep a pulse on ELs’ current performance in the classroom, modifying instructional approaches as needed. Teachers and administrators should regularly review outcomes of EL student performance relative to expected linguistic and academic progress. The central office provides schools with monitoring oversight and support, following established processes to monitor ELs’ progress, including the progress of LTEL and reclassified students. It is important to have an understanding of how students exited from EL status are performing in order to see the successes and provide ongoing support where necessary, and modify approaches to educating students currently designated as ELs.

  EL Family and Community Engagement

Establishing and maintaining strong, collaborative relationships with EL families and communities is important since the active involvement of family and community members in the work of the schools is essential to high achievement for all students, especially ELs. An EL Master Plan can provide successful strategies the district will use for including families of ELs in supporting their education in a meaningful way that respects their backgrounds, languages, and cultures. We believe that families, as children’s first teachers, are essential partners and assets in the overall educational achievement of their children.

  Professional Development for All Teachers of ELs

Ensuring educators in all roles at all grade levels are engaged in ongoing professional development will better prepare them to recognize the strengths and meet the needs of the district’s culturally and linguistically diverse students. All students deserve equitable access to the curriculum, and as such they need teachers, administrators, and specialists who hold students’ home languages and cultures in high esteem and provide an educational experience that promotes equity for all students, including ELs. Including plans for professional development for all staff who work with ELs or will work with them in the future ensures that ELs remain a part of critical conversations at the school and district levels.

  Program Evaluation

Evaluating district progress and success in serving its ELs can effectively identify areas that are meeting or exceeding expectations, as well as areas that need improvement. An EL Master Plan can outline how annual evaluations can monitor the implementation of all system inputs and instructional practices, measure annual program outcomes, and evaluate longitudinal progress toward the overall program goals. Consistent evaluation practices can foster internal accountability of all educators and stakeholders for implementation, outcomes, and continuous improvement of both to benefit ELs.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating these ten key components in an EL Master Plan can foster a shared sense of accountability among stakeholders in a community and lay out a clear path for a comprehensive approach to educating ELs. SupportEd is experienced in helping districts create or revise EL Master Plans, having worked with districts including Los Angeles Unified School District (CA), Jefferson County Public Schools (KY), Syracuse City School District (NY), and Reading School District (PA). Please see our SupportEd website for more details and to read these districts’ EL Master Plans as they become available. 

Diane Staehr Fenner