New report recommends ways to support English learners during the pandemic
As students return from summer break to start a school year like no other, whether that be through distance learning or in-person instruction, they return with new stress and anxiety about the pandemic and social isolation as well as the challenges to learning many experienced when school suddenly shut down in the spring. Schools must be prepared to meet students where they are and provide extra supports for underserved student groups such as English learners. Forty-four percent of California students speak a language other than English at home, and preliminary data suggest that these students have been disproportionately impacted by the shift to distance learning. For example, an Education Trust–West poll from early April found that nearly 25 percent of families that speak a non-English language at home had received learning materials only in English.

A joint report from seven educational equity organizations, “A Vision for California’s Schools this Fall: Equity for Dual Language and English Learners in an Unprecedented Moment,” summarizes the issue facing DLLs and ELs, including a disproportionate lack of access to devices and internet, and includes suggestions of what policymakers at the state and local levels, as well as educators, can do to support these student groups.

Opportunity gaps
California is in the process of building and supporting multilingualism, beginning with the passage in 2016 of Proposition 58, which rescinded the previous English-only education model. In addition, California’s Seal of Biliteracy recognizes students who achieve proficiency in English and another language by the time they graduate from high school, the Global California 2030 initiative aims to expand access to multilingual preK–12 instruction, and the adoption of the English Learner Roadmap in 2017 provides local educational agencies with research-based EL educational priorities.
little kid looking at screen
The report says that data will be essential to addressing EL’s academic progress. At the state level, it recommends providing adequate funding to provide devices and internet access to all students who need it and that a statewide survey gather info on how many students were able to access distance learning in the spring, sorted by student group. For district leaders, the report recommends specific, concrete actions to address the needs of ELs in there reopening plans, as is required in this year’s Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan, and to ensure that targeted Local Control Funding Formula dollars are used for this specific purpose. For educators, live instructional time, including through synchronous online learning, should be maximized for this student population.
Assessments and accountability
As schools reopen, plans should be made to assess academic progress, language development and social-emotional well-being. The report calls on state education leaders to develop specific guidance for how LEAs can demonstrate students’ continuous growth in English development and the academic content taught in English and, when available, the home language. They should provide clear timetables and resources to allow schools to assess all ELs’ linguistic and academic development against standardized benchmarks and DLLs’ progress on the developmental continuum as soon as safely possible. The report also recommends that state education leaders collect and publish attendance data disaggregated by student group, thus providing “a benchmark for evaluating opportunity gaps inherent in hybrid learning models.”

Local education leaders should clearly indicate screening and assessment plans in the distance learning plans and how they will use data from assessments to inform reopening plans. The report also recommends that local education leaders provide oversight to schools’ implementation of hybrid learning when the time comes to ensure ELs needs are being met.

Family engagement and support
Public health data has shown that low-income communities and communities of color have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Members of these communities are more likely to face food, housing and/or child care instability at present and are more likely to need to work outside of the home, resulting in reduced time to support their child in distance learning. Keeping these struggles in mind will help schools to prioritize not just academic learning, but address the mental and social-emotional health of students.

Making sure materials and instructions are available in the variety of students’ home languages is key to maximize learning opportunities for ELs. The report recommends that local education leaders create “family learning plans, which provide families who did not significantly participate in distance learning with a detailed, clear set of data-driven, individualized priorities and goals for their children during the period of hybrid learning.” It also suggests that LEAs invest in district licenses for apps that provide simultaneous translation at meetings and parent conferences.