California School News — March 2018
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New Policy

Q&A: The English Learner Roadmap

A new CSBA brief “The English Learner Roadmap: Providing Direction for English Learner Success,” part of the English Learners in Focus series, explores California’s historic new EL education policy.

The Roadmap sets California on a new course that views EL education as a systemwide responsibility centered on challenging curriculum, while respecting the value of ELs’ primary language and culture. California School News sat down with one of the brief’s authors, Laurie Olsen, to explore the new policy and learn how the brief helps to summarize this essential knowledge for board members.

What is the California English Learner Roadmap?

The English Learner Roadmap is the new English learner policy for California. It was passed by the State Board in July and it supersedes the 1998 policy. It is intended to provide districts and schools throughout the state with a common vision of what should be happening for our English learners as well as guidance for planning effective practices and programs for English learners.

Why should board members read the brief?

One reason is because the Roadmap is now law in the state, so local entities are expected to be aligned with it and local school boards should know what it is. It will also give board members the basis for being active participants in one of the essential dialogues happening in the state as we try to improve our schools. The brief and the Roadmap itself will really help them play that role.

How is this policy different from former approaches to English learner education in California?

The existing policy before the Roadmap came about in a really different era than where we are now. Passed in 1998, it was from a time in California when there was a very strong English-only movement, and the policy reflected that. In the 21st century, we have a whole new set of standards, very different public sentiment and new research about what constitutes best practices. It was time the English learner policy was brought up to date.

The Roadmap policy reflects a state that has adopted a Seal of Biliteracy; it reflects a state where Proposition 58 [which supports dual-language education in schools] was passed by 74 percent of the voters, indicating they want more opportunities for students to develop proficiency in multiple languages; it was passed in an era of the Common Core, which understands how essential language is to learning all subjects. It is far more asset-based and it reaches beyond just the goal of English proficiency to a goal of having the language to succeed academically, to be ready for college and career and to thrive and participate in a global society.

How are the English Learner Roadmap and the ELA/ELD Framework related?

The Roadmap was designed to draw upon and create cohesiveness and connections between various initiatives related to English learner education in California. Among these things is the new English Language Arts/English Language Development Standards and the Framework. The Framework has to do with curriculum and instruction in one content area, so it is not sufficient to speak to issues of program design and access to core content across the curriculum. It’s not sufficient to speak to the relationship between families, parents and schools. And it doesn’t address the issues of alignment and pathways between preschool and elementary school — all the way up through graduation. While the Roadmap builds on the Framework and embraces it, it maps out a more comprehensive system that is needed for English learner success.

Did the passage of Proposition 58 have any effect on the Roadmap?

It absolutely had an impact. Prop 58 was the voters speaking about wanting more opportunities for students to develop multiple proficiencies. The State Board had to make changes in the 1998 policy to align it with Prop 58, and it also became an opportunity to bring our state English learner policy in alignment with other changes like new research findings.

How can the Roadmap help local educational agencies prepare English learners for success in an increasingly global society?

This is an era of local control where decisions about programs and services and the use of resources are being made at the local level. That means that LEAs need to have their own conversations about what the needs of their students are and how they satisfy those needs. The Roadmap is designed to help planning by providing a comprehensive statement of what research-based practice looks like, and the vision of the Roadmap is aligned with the notion of what it is to prepare students for a global society. It helps LEAs do their local planning in a way we know is aligned with research and provides a common direction for the state. But it still allows LEAs to decide for themselves what pathway they are going to take to get to these common goals.

What questions should local school boards explore as they seek to implement the Roadmap policy?

Right now, the way that decisions get made about English learner policies and services are very piecemeal. The Roadmap enables local school boards to identify and ask the appropriate questions: Where are we in each of these areas? What areas need extra help? What are our next steps toward continuous improvement?

Boards should also be asking if their local policies are aligned with the Roadmap. In many cases, they are going to need to take a new look at the district’s English learner master plan and to take a new look at their position statements on issues like language diversity and how they support proficiency in multiple languages.