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In the Classroom

English Language Proficiency Standards 101

Fluency in English is the key your students will use to achieve their dreams

The English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS) replaced the English as a Second Language Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (ESL TEKS) in November 2007. These standards have been implemented in schools across Texas, and, as with any change, they have taken some getting used to.

The ELPS are designed to help students reach their full academic potential through second-language acquisition. They’re centered on content-area instruction, social and academic-language instruction, and instruction focused on the TEKS. Find the ELPS in their entirety at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/curriculum/biling/elps.html.

Region 13 Education Service Center (ESC) bilingual/ESL specialist Meredith Roddy has some tips for educators implementing these standards. Roddy says: “Fluency in English is the key your students will use to achieve their dreams.”

A growing student population
According to Texas Education Agency data, more than 757,000 Texas students were enrolled in bilingual education or ESL classes during the 2008-09 school year. That’s approximately 36,000 more students than received such instruction in 2007-08. This increase has led more educators to pursue ESL certification. If you are interested in becoming ESL-certified, start by contacting your region’s ESC. Many offer professional development courses that prepare teachers for the ESL Texas Examination of Educator Standards (TExES).

Roddy advises newly certified ESL teachers to be patient with themselves and with their students. “Learning a language fluently takes time, and learning to implement the ESL strategies and methodologies takes time and practice,” she says.

Identifying English language learners
Parents of new students are required to fill out a home language survey that identifies students who need testing to determine English proficiency. Regardless of parent permission, all students in grades K-12 who are identified as limited English proficient are required to be assessed using the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessments (TELPAS). The assessment measures K-12 students’ English language proficiency in the areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing. It also measures students’ ability to use English in both social and academic situations.

After a student’s proficiency has been evaluated as beginning, intermediate, advanced or advanced high, educators can use these levels to pace instruction and apply appropriate accommodations. TELPAS assessments were designed to work together with the ELPS to promote successful academic English language acquisition.

Accommodations to try
When working with English learners, Roddy says it’s important to consider how to use linguistic accommodations to provide more support to students whose first language is not English. Accommodations help students overcome language barriers and facilitate content learning. Roddy suggests that educators:

  • Use authentic language; avoid idioms.
  • Use nonverbal cues consistently.
  • Use manipulatives, realia (objects from real life) and visuals.
  • Help students feel safe by creating a friendly and supportive learning environment.
  • Speak slowly, and enunciate.
  • Use vocabulary and sentence structure that matches a student’s proficiency level. For example, use gestures and simple sentence structures such as subject-verb-object when working with a beginning English learner.
  • Repeat yourself often, and paraphrase using similar language.

Connecting with parents
As in any instructional area, it is important for teachers of English learners to involve their students’ parents or guardians in the learning process. The services of a translator might be necessary.

Make sure you keep parents abreast of all learning occurring in the classroom. Share with parents the strategies you are using to help their child learn English, and encourage them to use the same strategies at home. Help make parents feel comfortable so they will come to you if they see their child struggling with homework or have any questions or concerns about the curriculum. It’s also important to encourage parents to read with their children often. Even if parents don’t speak English, it is still valuable for students to experience reading with them in their native language. If parents do speak English, encourage them to speak and sing with their child in both English and their native language.

Stay the course
Once again, Roddy emphasizes patience. “Sometimes, it’s hard to see progress immediately, and you may wonder if [your efforts are] working,” she says. “Over time, however, you’ll feel extremely rewarded by the progress your students make, and your hard work will pay off.”

Hear Meredith Roddy’s presentation “The ELPS Toolkit: A Framework for Planning and Teaching with English Learners” at the 30th Annual ATPE State Convention, March 25–27 in Austin.

book coverBOOK REVIEW: Outreach for new teachers

Although Jennifer Allen, an elementary literacy specialist in Waterville, Maine, felt “alone and ineffective” toward the end of her first year of teaching, she soon realized other novice educators felt the same way. In A Sense of Belonging: Sustaining and Retaining New Teachers, Allen discusses strategies that mentors, coaches, administrators and fellow team members can use to support novice teachers.

Many new teachers struggle with planning lessons, interacting with parents, and managing their classrooms and their time. Allen suggests ideas mentor teachers can use to help novice teachers achieve success while still feeling independent in their classroom decisions. Peer observations, modeling and in-class support help novice educators learn what works for others. They can “copy” successful lessons and procedures. Allen also discusses the power of professional development in many forms—study groups, rigorous courses focused on relevant issues, monthly new-teacher meetings that provide peer support and team planning meetings.

“It is our job as coaches, teachers, mentors and administrators … to nurture, encourage and cheer on new educators as they embark on their journey as teachers,” Allen writes.

Did you know ATPE offers a support system for novice educators?
Free membership in the Performance-based Academic Coaching Team (PACT) System is available to ATPE members in their first through third years of teaching. The PACT System provides new educators with access to experienced e-mentors, chat rooms and other resources. Learn more at www.atpe.org/Resources/PACT.

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