On Aug 9, 2021
When the dust finally settles on the pandemic, we will likely look back on the 2020/2021 school year as one of deep trauma, learning setbacks, inequity in access to education and support, and economic devastation for K-12 English Learners (EL) and their families. By many accounts, English learners and students of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Nearly five million students in K-12, approximately 20% of public school students, are EL students. In California, more than 1.1 million students are EL students, and even before the pandemic, they ranked in the lowest performing groups for graduating from high school, attending college, and meeting state standards.
By taking a look at LAUSD, one of the nation’s largest school districts, we can see the damage the pandemic has brought to many of them. In April 2020, just weeks after Los Angeles schools moved to remote learning, less than half of EL students were attending remote learning classes each week. For many of these students, lack of computer access, broadband access or a parent to support remote learning played a part, but the pandemic also took a heavier toll in illness and family economics compared to other students. Equally troubling, the district reported that over 40% of grades by EL high school students were Ds and Fs, a 10% increase over 2019/2020. Unfortunately, middle school students also had a 12% increase in Ds and Fs as well.
With vaccines now readily available and declining rates of COVID-19 in most parts of the country, the U.S. is poised to have nearly all of its K-12 students return to the classroom for 2021-2022. But for many ELL students who either lacked resources to attend class virtually, dropped out during 2020-2021, were unable to attend school regularly, or fell behind in math and reading, the way forward will be rocky at best without schools embracing out of the box thinking to help them.
Now is the time for educators, school psychologists and administrators to think outside the box to help these students make up for any learning losses.
Here are seven steps to get you started in helping English learner students reengage and thrive:
- Test all students at the beginning of the school year to understand where students are and to help assess what learning losses might have occurred. Schools need to make sure they select a testing solution that allows them to capture both academic and linguistic loss. Schools should employ progress monitoring assessments that are administered periodically to detect if the student is making progress or not. This data can highlight those students that need extra support.
- Advocate for ELs to have access to evidence-based interventions and English development programs within general education settings with English-speaking peers instead of special education or English and a Second Language (ESL) programs. The goal here is not to separate ELLs from their English-speaking peers and further alienate them from mainstream students.
- Provide a social-emotional curriculum and facilitate EL and other students' interaction in social settings like recess, school clubs, and after-school programs. Social interaction through play has many benefits including increasing attention and concentration during class time, healing from stress and trauma, helping with the transition from home to school learning, and connecting with peers.
- Encourage students to hold public leadership positions in the student council. Elevating students to leadership roles can help change the perception that ELs are different or a lower track group. For example, encourage these students to join the school student council and to participate in community and parent meetings. This level of public leadership will communicate that ELs are integral members of the school community.
- Engage parents and be prepared to provide them with information in their spoken language. Educators should hold informational meetings with parents and provide tips on how to support their children in the home environment. A list of community resources can be provided to the parents if they are lacking essential supplies in the home environment that are essential for their children to access the academic curriculum.
- Provide access to reliable internet and computers. The pandemic has brought the digital divide to the surface. ELs have disproportionately struggled to access their remote classrooms due to lacking adequate technology resources like reliable internet and laptops. While companies like Google donated Chromebooks and some school districts provided access to wifi in California, many children remained with inadequate technology to access their courses, even prior to the pandemic.
- Improve the quality of remote learning. Given the immediate transition from in-person to remote learning at the outset of the pandemic, many schools were unprepared to provide instruction in limited time with limited training. Remote learning for ELs can be improved by increasing synchronous learning, facilitating student collaboration during learning, providing students opportunities to talk about what they are learning, and increasing reading and writing opportunities.
We are just a few years away from one out of every four students in the U.S. being an EL. In order for our country to meet the demands of our growing, technology-driven economy, we must find a way to ensure that every child has received the education they will need for the not-too-distant future.