Supporting English Learners During the COVID-19 Pandemic

K-12

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As state, district and school leaders transition back into learning this fall — whether in-person, distanced or both — they are working to ensure that instruction is accessible and meaningful for all students. It’s important that state leaders and educators provide English learners with a quality education regardless of the instructional model. This includes meeting the specific educational services that English learners are legally entitled to, providing resources, and keeping students and families engaged. Our 50-State Comparison on English Learner Policies details how states provide these services. Although English learners account for  10% of the total student population, these students represent a variety of racial and ethnic identities and language backgrounds, and come to school with varying experiences and needs.

Serving English Learners In-Person. While health considerations should guide local decision making, the unique needs of English learners may best be fulfilled through in-person education services since these students face many barriers to equitable distance learning participation. Research shows that English learners are less likely to have the necessary technology for distance learning and that teachers feel they lack the expertise to use online resources to support students. A return to in-person instruction can help educators assess potential learning loss and provide more targeted interventions. In-person instruction may also help to emphasize family engagement, reestablish vital relationships and connections, and address students’ social and emotional needs. These benefits have some states — Oregon and Virginia — prioritizing English learners for in-person instruction.

Providing Equitable Distance Learning. Because many English learners lack access to technology, schools and districts should consider how best to engage with students and their families during distance learning. A guidance document from TNTP recommends considering a blend of resources, including options that require internet access and ones that can be printed and sent home. Some teachers would like to see additional instructional time for targeted language development.

Serving English learners through distance learning will likely require education service providers to continue using innovative techniques to connect with students every day. The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence released Distance and Hybrid Learning Playbooks to support  local education agencies, including specific considerations for English learners in hybrid and virtual plans. Recommendations include hybrid learning supports for families and language boot camps that consist of language-focused classes for students outside of typical school hours. Texas created open-access resources for English learners in reading and math and provides distance learning professional development for teachers statewide.

Continuing to Serve English Learners. The meaningful assessment of English learners will continue to play a vital role in educational recovery efforts regardless of the instructional model. Quickly assessing students through classroom-based formative assessments can help to tailor instruction. While in-person assessments will be much easier to administer, virtual assessments are still important during distance learning. In addition to meaningful assessment, culturally responsive engagement and instruction can assist with building relationships with students and families that enable schools to address their needs and ensure meaningful learning.

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Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | zperez@ecs.org

As a policy analyst, Zeke tracks legislation related to statewide longitudinal data systems, school safety and postsecondary campus safety. He has been with Education Commission of the States since 2014. Zeke has a passion for local politics and enjoys following the varied policy approaches of city and state leaders.

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Policy Researcher at Education Commission of the States

As a policy researcher, Emily works on answering information requests and collecting data related to state education policy. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Emily started pursuing her doctorate in public affairs and worked as a budget analyst at the Oregon Capitol. Emily earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Willamette University and is currently working on her dissertation at the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs.

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Policy Researcher at Education Commission of the States | berwin@ecs.org

As a policy researcher, Ben works on tracking legislation, answering information requests and contributing to other policy team projects. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, he taught high school social studies in Kentucky and worked in education policy at the National Conference of State Legislatures. He earned a master's degree in education policy from the University of Colorado Boulder and a bachelor's degree in history and education from Transylvania University.

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