Originally posted on Colorin Colorado by Diane Staehr Fenner

This is the second post in a two-part series about dual language instruction and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In this piece, I will examine four particular challenges associated with implementing the CCSS in dual language settings, and for each challenge provide some CCSS resources for teachers and administrators who educate ELLs in dual language programs. See Part I for an overview of the benefits of dual language programs and information about the increasingly popular Seal of Biliteracy.

Dual Language Instruction and the Common Core

The push to expand dual language programs across the country occurs at the same time as the implementation of the CCSS for many students, including ELLs. The challenges inherent in implementing the CCSS may become magnified with the increased complexities that CCSS-based instruction in two languages presents. In particular, there are distinct challenges of translating the CCSS into a language other than English, finding CCSS-aligned materials suitable for instruction in two languages, securing qualified dual language teachers who also are skilled at designing instruction around the CCSS in two languages, and implementing valid assessments that offer accurate benchmarks of students’ language development in the languages in which they are receiving instruction.

Some of the challenges and resources related to each of these topics are detailed below.

Standards Challenge: A direct translation of the CCSS into partner languages may not be possible due to linguistic features specific to certain languages.

Standards Resource: The Council of Chief State School Officers, the California Department of Education, and the San Diego County Office of Education joined forces to translate the CCSS in Language Arts and Mathematics into Spanish for the Common Core en Español project. The writers involved in that project provided a translation and “linguistic augmentation” of the standards. The purpose of the linguistic augmentation is to address points that are specific to the Spanish language and literacy. The linguistic augmentation is based on the Real Academia de la Lengua Española’s norms and rules of usage for oral and written Spanish. Some of the standards’ concepts are fully transferable from English to Spanish (e.g., ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text). However, some concepts require an augmentation to be applicable and accurate in Spanish (e.g., the use of written accents in Spanish). The augmentation also provides a structure and details for developing instructional materials that address the specific features of Spanish.

Materials Challenge: There is an acknowledged lack of CCSS-aligned materials in English for ESL teachers, as suggested in a recent New America Media blog post. It is also especially challenging to find CCSS-aligned materials in partner languages used in dual language programs. And, while many publishers claim their materials are aligned to the CCSS, there seems to be a continuum of what “alignment” actually means as it plays out in the classroom. In fact, a recent study of mathematics textbook series said to be CCSS aligned found 17 of 20 series reviewed did actually not align to the CCSS.

Materials Resource: The translated Spanish standards include recommended types of informational texts and literature for Kindergarten through Grade 5. In addition, the publisher Santillana USA has compiled a list of Spanish translations of selected exemplar books suggested for each grade level (K-12) listed in the original CCSS Appendix B. A search yielded some online tools compiling Spanish dual language materials, some of which are said to be CCSS-aligned. (Note: The Center for Applied Linguistics recently announced a new partnership wiht Santillana USA focused on dual language education.)

Qualified Teachers Challenge: Teachers in dual language programs, especially those who teach in the non-English partner language, must wear a lot of hats. They have to not only be native or native-like in terms of their linguistic fluency, but they must also be able to collaborate with parents and administrators to explain language acquisition and creatively adapt materials for language learners. While the demand for qualified dual language teachers has markedly increased, the supply has not kept up.

Qualified Teachers Resource: Some districts, states, universities, and organizations recognize the growing demand for qualified dual language teachers and are creating pathways to prepare more dual language teachers at the pre-service level. For example, a growing number of districts are partnering with their local universities to ensure that more teachers graduate who are qualified to teach in dual language programs. Some states host U.S. university students to visit their public schools, while other states such as Illinois and Wisconsin recruit native speaking partner language teachers from overseas.

Assessment Challenge: While PARCC and Smarter Balanced have made math assessments available in Spanish, language arts assessments aligned to the CCSS are still in English. This issue raises some complex questions, such as what a valid assessment looks like for language arts as part of  a dual language program. There are also are important assessment policy considerations that come with the expansion of dual language programs, including whether versions of assessments will be available in multiple languages and whether state policies will be adjusted if a state’s ELL-allowed accommodations do not include testing in a language other than English. Finally, it would be essential to clarify how this language of testing issue impacts teacher evaluation in states where test scores are included as part of a teacher’s performance (which is currently 45 out of 50 states, according to a new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality).

Assessment Resource: This article about efforts in Santa Fe to integrate the Common Core and dual language programming does an excellent job outlining the challenges of receiving instruction in two languages and then being tested only in one, including the implicit message that this English-only testing sends students and families about the value of the partner language. It also offers an in-depth discussion of the implications of those results in the short- and long-term for students, families, principals, districts, and states as well as the steps that Santa Fe is taking to address this issue within its larger state context.

Questions I’m Left With

As momentum for dual language programs continues to grow, I’m still wondering about a few things, and I look to you for your input and expertise.

  • What are districts using for CCSS language arts standards in languages other than Spanish?
  • How can we find high quality partner language materials to use in dual language programs that are aligned to the CCSS in language arts and mathematics?
  • In particular, what materials are available in languages other than Spanish that are aligned to the CCSS in language arts?
  • What are some other ways to find effective dual language teachers as the demand for dual language programs increases?
  • How can required assessments for students (most often given in English) be reconceptualized so that they are valid for students instructed in the partner language in dual language programs?
  • How can we ensure that ELLs’ language and culture are valued as crucial components of dual language programming so that dual language programs truly benefit both groups of students?