Report seeks English learner, special ed student supports

Credit: Sarah Tully/EdSource TodayTeacher explains a math problem to a student at West Adams Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles. Students are English learners who have been in the country for less than a year. Credit: Sarah Tully/EdSource TodayTeacher explains a math problem to a student at West Adams Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles. Students are English learners who have been in the country for less than a year. Teachers need special support and training to help English language learners and special education students meet Common Core standards, says a report by a Los Angeles area teachers group.
Both student groups are vulnerable and can easily fall between the cracks, concludes “One School for All: Common Core for Unique Student Populations.”
The report, released Thursday, says instructional opportunities need to be better coordinated.
The idea of concentrating on these two groups of students came from a poll of more than 500 teachers about the most pressing topics affecting their classrooms, said Ama Nyamekye, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles.
“The response was that teachers are still struggling with how to simultaneously raise expectations for all students while leveling the playing field for our most vulnerable children,” she said. “As we navigate an era of newly vetted resources aligned to Common Core instruction, these teachers wanted to talk about: ‘What are the supports and resources for serving our students?’”
English learners and special needs students are often included with other students but their teachers don’t always have special training to work with them, Nyamekye said. To remedy this, the group’s teacher policy team suggested that general education teachers collaborate and plan with special education and English learner teachers.
The report’s recommendations are directed toward district, union and state leaders.
For Districts:
Include all teachers in training: general education, English Language Development and special education.
Train teacher leaders to support the English Language and special education students and use technology to ensure equity districtwide.
Offer training to explain to families the curriculum changes due to Common Core standards and challenges for English learners and special education students.
For Unions:
Advocate for common planning time among all teachers.
Communicate to teachers about available training in how to adapt Common Core standards to English learners and special education students.
For the State:
Require teacher preparation programs to offer more rigorous courses related to serving English learners and special education students.
Create a clear vision for how schools and districts can increase access to technology, especially for unique student populations.
Two teachers who participated on the policy team that came up with the recommendations said in phone interviews that it’s important for all educators to have opportunities to collaborate with each other and to learn from teacher leaders with special expertise. In addition, both said they did not receive enough training in their teacher preparation programs to adequately equip them to educate English learners and special needs students.
Mario Echeverria, who teaches 5th- and 6th-grade English Language Arts and technology at the KIPP Academy of Innovation in East Los Angeles, said 60 percent of the students are English learners. In his classes, a quarter of students are in special education. He said special education teachers already join in department and grade level meetings.
“They are a huge portion of what we’re incorporating in order to accommodate our students,” he said. “One of the reasons I joined this policy team was to make sure this is happening in schools all across the state.”
Misti Kemmer, a 4th-grade teacher at Russell Elementary in Los Angeles, said her school’s special education teacher participates in her grade level meetings, but not in others. She wants teacher leaders to get extra pay to train others in special strategies to use with English learners and special education students.
Echeverria said he wished his teacher preparation program had included more courses related to English learners and special education students. And Kemmer said she would have liked an internship with a mentor teacher before she started her career 11 years ago.
“My first year as a teacher, I had 28 English learners in my class of 33 students and I definitely was not prepared for that,” she said. “About 27 were not readers and it was 5th grade. It was really rough.”
Both said they hoped to visit legislators in Sacramento to spread the word about the report’s recommendations.
“I’m definitely excited,” Echeverria said. “You want your voice to be heard and you want your voice to be important. Especially in education – working with our students every single day – you definitely want to be a part of education reform or education policies that are going to affect not just your school, but every school.”
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