• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2009

Dr. Abelardo VillarrealIn the January issue of the IDRA Newsletter, IDRA presented context and principles that describe fundamental elements of an evidence-based secondary educational plan for English language learners. Following is a brief description of the last six principles.

Equity Principle 5

English language learners must learn in an environment characterized by acceptance, valuing, respect, support, safety and security. Imparting a valuing perspective (Montemayor, 2007) begins at the school board level (policies) and filters throughout the entire learning environment (actions, practices and opportunities to learn) (Scottish Government, 2004). Its impact on student motivation and engagement cannot be ignored. A valuing perspective is not a choice left to an individual educator’s inclination or preference.

Contextualizing content to reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the student population promotes a sense of belonging and connectedness and of being valued and respected. This results in greater student participation and engagement in the learning process. Seeing ELLs through a deficit lens lowers the quality of services provided to students, and it delimits the opportunities that these students have to excel and perform academically.

Schools must ensure that ELLs experience social, psychological and cognitive support to succeed in school (García and Beltrán, 2003). Comprehensive counseling services (social, emotional and career services) must be accessible to ELLs by culturally proficient counselors. Efforts to engage ELLs in extracurricular activities should be embodied in a measurable goal at each secondary campus.

Equity Principle 6

A quality curriculum is characterized by the use of research-based, proven and unbiased assessment instruments, curriculum materials (Oakes and Saunders, 2002) and instructional strategies. Appropriate facilities must be available (Gándara, et al., 2003), including environmentally appropriate learning spaces, instructional hardware and software, instructional materials and equipment, and all other instructional supports to ensure that ELLs are held to high academic standards.

Instructional strategies must be adjusted and modified (sheltered instruction) to ensure that all ELLs regardless of their level of English language proficiency participate and are fully engaged in instruction at all times. Instructional supports that integrate the use of technology must be accessible to ELLs in order to ensure that learning is maximized. ELLs must have access to challenging content, including AP courses (Gándara, et al., 2003) and dual language credit courses that prepare them to succeed in college, particularly in high demand areas, such as mathematics and science that have traditionally been inaccessible to ELLs.

ELLs should be fully integrated into regular classroom instruction for at least 75 percent of the time. Grouping ELLs for instruction outside of the regular classroom should be allowed only for instruction in the native language and should not total more than 25 percent of instructional time.

Any curriculum designed specifically for ELLs must meet the rigor and relevance of a quality curriculum. Curricular materials must demonstrate respect and value and integrate a society of cultural diversity. AP and dual college credit courses must reflect enrollment rates of ELLs that are consistent with the percentage of ELLs at the campus. Secondary schools must have content reference materials in the various languages represented by ELLs. A comprehensive curriculum should provide for supplementary instruction for those students who need academic support beyond that provided in the classroom. 

Other practices that have been tried with some success in increasing the number of students graduating from high school include: grade level and thematic learning communities, catch up courses, double blocked classes, aligning curriculum across grade levels, and mentoring and coaching of teachers. Experience has shown that these and other practices that offer hope can be hindered by such factors as: lack of focused and reliable funding, lack of a planned expansion and sustainability approach, lack of internal support, and associating practice with temporary and minimal results.

Quality teaching strategies, such as cooperative learning and sheltered instruction (CALLA, SIOP), and other relevant strategies (CREDE’s five principles: teachers and students working together, developing language and literacy skills across the curriculum, connecting lessons to student lives, engaging students with challenging lessons, and emphasizing dialogue over lectures) that demonstrate the social, psychological and cognitive engagement of ELLs throughout the class period must be used.

Instruction of ELLs must integrate the development of content with the development of English language skills. ELLs must have access to technology (Gándara, et al., 2003) both as a learning tool and a workplace skill. Benchmarking progress results should be used periodically by classroom teachers to assess ELLs’ progress in content mastery and, in case of poor progress design curriculum and instructional adjustments, implement and document effectiveness in increasing progress. Teachers of ELLs must meet periodically to assess success, adjust curriculum and make the necessary changes at the content department level.

Equity Principle 7

English language learners must have access to qualified staff who have the passion and conviction to make a difference in the lives of English language learners (Clewell and Campbell, 2004; Robledo Montecel, 2007). It is not uncommon for schools with significant numbers of ELLs to be in low-performing schools with high poverty rates and high minority populations, with higher numbers of teachers teaching out of field, not fully certified and inexperienced. This coupled with a pervasive mindset of low expectations of students and an inadequate curriculum creates a dysfunctional environment conducive to ELLs’ early emotional and cognitive disengagement. Furthermore, minimal professional development efforts have had a demonstrated history of impact in increasing teacher quality and effectiveness.

The question that puzzles most educators is: Why is it that a teacher who receives training on the most effective teaching strategies, who can articulate and demonstrate the most effective use of these strategies, can be still the most ineffective teacher? Is there an even stronger determinant of teacher effectiveness? What restricts the effectiveness of a teaching strategy?

Among other factors, research shows that stereotypes and myths that teachers have about a student’s culture can impair expectations, student-teacher interactions and delivery of instruction, and eventually can have a devastating impact on student performance. These shape relationships with students and determine the quality of the student-teacher interaction. In reviewing the various administrator and teacher professional development programs, it is evident that awareness and training of how to address stereotypes and myths are omitted or are rarely addressed with depth and intensity.

ELLs must not be over-represented in classes with non-certified teachers or teachers teaching out of field (DeCohen, et al., 2005). All teachers of ELLs must receive continuous professional development services (Maxwell-Jolly, et al., 2006; Villarreal and Gónzalez, 2008) and show competency in the following areas: first and second language acquisition theory, sheltered instruction strategies, working with parents as partners in the educational process, cooperative learning strategies, enriching social and academic vocabulary, engaging ELLs emotionally and cognitively in the content of instruction, and developing a sense of efficacy both in the teacher and in ELLs. All content area teachers with ELLs must receive, at a minimum, 12 hours of professional development services each year.

Equity Principle 8

Parents must be informed about and participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of the ELL program. Parents must be re-assured in a language they understand that educational excellence (Jeynes, 2004) has not been compromised, intense monitoring of ELL student progress will be implemented, and instruction will be adjusted to ensure that their children are held to high academic standards. Meaningful engagement of parents in the educational process of ELLs as equal partners in the design and implementation of school-based solutions must be required (González, 2005). Involving parents of ELLs in the site-based committee provides opportunities for input into the school’s decision-making process.

Equity Principle 9

Appropriate monitoring and accountability measures (including state-mandated tests and other alternative assessment measurements) at all levels of the school hierarchy – including governance, administration and instruction – must be implemented periodically. Monitoring program outcomes and implementation integrity to ensure a high level of success in educating ELLs should be the shared responsibility of the state education agency, the school district and its individual campuses. The responsibility of the state education agency is tied to its role in accrediting school districts and campuses that meet a high standard of quality of all educational services provided to children. Standards for monitoring ELLs’ success are based on ELLs’ achievement outcomes, program implementation integrity, and school district and campus accountability to community and parents.

Because Texas has a diversity of students from different backgrounds, it is essential that school districts and campuses be assessed on their success with different student groups, in this case with ELLs. Implementation integrity is directly related to school success of ELLs at a campus. It is perhaps the best way of explaining their achieved level of academic success. Thus, monitoring the ELL program’s implementation integrity in a consistent and periodic manner assures the court, the state education agency, school district, community and parents about the level of progress. But it also informs school administrators and teachers of the support and program adjustments needed to increase the level of success.

Monitoring program outcomes and program implementation integrity must be planned and systematically carried out. It is multi-dimensional and should occur around three major activities: (1) adherence of program design to quality program standards; (2) adherence of the implementation effort to educational program; and (3) achievement of ELLs’ academic outcomes. A successful mentoring ystem must have state oversight responsibilities and reside with school districts and campuses.

Equity Principle 10

State and local education systems must be accountable for achievement outcomes and a quality educational program for English language learners. State and local educational agencies must be accountable to students, educators, parents and other stakeholders for academic success of ELLs. Also, they must be accountable for the preparation of all students, particularly ELLs, to experience the success necessary to graduate and be ready for college. Specific measures must include: (1) ELL achievement that is comparable to non-ELL achievement; (2) disproportionality of retention and dropout rates between ELLs and non-ELLs; (3) comparable graduation rates; and (4) comparable application, admission and retention rates in college.


The challenge of closing the academic gap that exists between ELLs and non-ELLs requires passion, commitment, knowledge and a sense of efficacy among all school personnel. It requires a transformation from seeing this challenge through a deficit lens to a valuing one that recognizes ELLs as students capable, willing and ready to learn. In other words, schools should view the possibilities and the opportunities to build and strengthen assets brought forth by ELLs and their parents and community.

These 10 principles focus on the classroom as central to the success of ELLs, while acknowledging the important role that the school as a whole, its culture and belief system have on the level of success obtained. ELLs’ involvement in extracurricular activities is key to creating in ELLs a feeling of belonging and connectedness. Judge Justice challenges and compels us to now take urgent, immediate action on an issue that has lingered as an unfulfilled promise since the passage of SB 477, the Texas Bilingual Education Act adopted in 1986.

IDRA’s Framework for Effective Instruction of Secondary English Language Learners

See IDRA’s research-based framework that provides guidance for design, implementation and evaluation of an effective ELL program. The framework includes seven key components: state leadership, oversight and compliance; governance; fair funding; parent and community engagement; student achievement and support; teaching and curriculum quality; and accountability. Each component is defined by research-based elements.

The framework was presented in late 2008 following Judge William Wayne Justice’s ruling that the state of Texas failed to effectively educate secondary level English language learner students and to monitor school district compliance with EEOA and state policy related to secondary ELL students.


Ten Principles for the Educational of Secondary English Language Learners – In Brief

Equity Principle 1
High comparable achievement and performance is evident among English language learners, and non-ELLs and a plan for achieving these outcomes is evident.

Equity Principle 2
The school board must support and assign the education of English language learners a high priority.

Equity Principle 3
Identification of secondary students for participation and exiting from the ELL program must be based on an assessment of language proficiency, students’ level of understanding and use of academic language in core content areas (mathematics, science, social studies) and students’ achievement in core content areas assessed in the English language.

Equity Principle 4
High school graduation is an expectation for all students; there are no excuses for less.

Equity Principle 5
English language learners must learn in an environment characterized by acceptance, valuing, respect, support, safety and security.

Equity Principle 6
English language learners must have access to quality curriculum and instruction that prepares them for college and the workplace.

Equity Principle 7
English language learners must have access to qualified staff with the passion and conviction to make a difference in the lives of English language learners.

Equity Principle 8
Parents must be informed and participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of the ELL program.

Equity Principle 9
Appropriate monitoring and accountability measures (including state-mandated tests and other alternative assessment measurements) at all levels of the school hierarchy – including governance, administration and instruction – must be implemented periodically.

Equity Principle 10
State and local education systems must be accountable for achievement outcomes and a quality educational program for English language learners.

2009, Intercultural Development Research Association


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Oakes, J., and M. Saunders. “Access to Textbooks, Instructional Materials, Equipment, and Technology: Inadequacy and Inequality in California’s Public Schools,” CLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, Williams Watch Series, Paper wws-rr001-1002 (Los Angeles, Calif.: UCLA/IDEA, October 1, 2002).

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Scottish Government. Partnership Matters, A Guide to Local Authorities, NHS Boards and Voluntary Organizations on Supporting Students with Additional Needs in Further Education (2004).

Villarreal, A., and J. Gonzalez. “Professional Development,” Encyclopedia on Bilingual Education (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2008).

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is the director of IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]