10 Ways the Common Core Helps Improve Achievement for English Language Learners: What We Can Learn from our Laurel Street Colleagues ~ Eric Brandt


Eric Brandt has worked in public schools for 17 years as a classroom teacher (U.S. and abroad), ELL teacher, and principal primarily in urban environments. Eric is currently in his third year as assistant principal at Doull Elementary in southwest Denver. Doull has demonstrated high growth over the past three years and is currently rated as a green school according to the 2013-2014 Denver Public Schools School Performance Framework. Eric is active as a Teach For America alumnus (NYC ’97) and has also worked for TNTP with the New York City Teaching Fellows. Eric has twin sixth grade boys, Harry and Jesse, and his wife, Kim Dvorchak, is the executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition.
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>As a third year assistant principal at a Title One school comprised of 58% English Language Learners (ELL) and 91% minorities, I am always excited to learn from schools that are changing the life trajectory of ELL students. After sitting in a session at this year’s Education Trust conference presented by Laurel Street Elementary in Compton, California, I am inspired to share messages from their lead staff with my educator colleagues.

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Laurel Street is a 2012 Education Trust Dispelling the Myth award winner for good reason. Despite being comprised of 76% Hispanic, 22% African American, and 1% White students, Laurel Street continues to outpace the state in growth on state testing. For example<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman””=””>, the percent of Laurel Street fifth grade math students reaching the advanced level has increased from 5 percent in 2004 to 50 percent in 2012 while only a third of California’s fifth-graders performed at this level. <span “font-size:=”” 10.0pt;font-family:”times”,”serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” mso-bidi-font-family:”times=”” roman””=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Looking at Laurel Street through the lens of an elementary school principal, here are ten ways that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are improving ELL student achievement at Laurel Street Elementary.  <span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#1.  Common Core can lead to high ELL student achievement.<span “font-size:=”” 10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Laurel Street teaches the CCSS and gets results. In 2013, 83% of Laurel Street students were proficient in ELA, 91% were proficient in math.  Boom.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#2.  Common Core requires teachers to develop lessons that address all four language domains: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.<span “font-size:=”” 10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Speaking, Listening, Language, and Writing standards are designed to be embedded into daily practice alongside content standards, rather than inserted as an afterthought or appendix attached to a separate set of curricula or standards. All students benefit from this inclusive approach to language instruction, most especially ELL students.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#3.  Common Core encourages teachers to collaborate to write more rigorous assessments.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Teachers at Laurel Street write their own CCSS-aligned assessments in Professional Learning Communities. They don’t use a particular program; they use the standards as benchmarks to assess their students’ learning while deeply reflecting on their own practice. It is my position that Laurel Street’s high performance on state tests is directly related to these rigorous, teacher-created assessments.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#4.  ELLs are gifted and talented too!  Train your teachers in how to meet their needs so that they can soar!<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:=”” “tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Laurel Street sent their entire staff to the CAD Conference (California Association for the Gifted). We know that ELLs are just as gifted as non-ELLs, so it is up to us to invest in our teachers to be trained to identify and meet the needs of our gifted ELL students using the more rigorous CCSS.<span “font-size:=”” 10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#5.  Vertically-Aligned Sentence Frames help ELLs to be successful with the Common Core.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Laurel Street teachers agree on a group of sentence frames to be used through each grade level.  By the time a Laurel Street ELL student gets to Rebecca Roundtree Harris in 5th grade, they are well equipped to answer in complete sentences using vertically-aligned sentence frames like “I know my answer is correct because…” The CCSS provide specific benchmarks for teachers and students for the presentation of knowledge and ideas. These benchmarks are captured in the Speaking and Listening standards defined at each grade level.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#6.  Frequent classroom visits and speedy feedback on teaching to the Common Core.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>At Laurel Street, principals spend their time in classrooms.  In fact, every time a principal visited their classroom, Laurel Street teachers told us that they received feedback in the next 30-40 minutes! During the transition to CCSS, timely feedback and leadership are essential to successful implementation.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””> <span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#7.  The Common Core has high expectations for Kindergarten students, and this sets them up for success in future grades.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:=”” “tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>At first, teachers at Laurel Street thought their ELL students newly learning English would not be able to write even one sentence in English by the end of kindergarten. However, the teachers found out that kindergarten students are actually capable of writing an entire paragraph in English with strong instruction. This discovery drastically changed kindergarten teachers’ expectations for their ELLs, and, subsequently, raised the rigor for students in all other grades at Laurel Street.  <span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#8.  Bloom’s is for Math!  Synthesize and Analyze math problems.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Bloom’s taxonomy is not just for ELA. Students at Laurel Street spend their time doing do a great deal of error analysis of their math work, and even better, using sentence frames in their math classes (e.g. “I know my answer is correct because…”). The expectation that students analyze word problems and speak in complete sentences has raised the rigor and increased student achievement in math.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#9.  Don’t just provide evidence…Discuss WHY your evidence supports your answer.<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>This expectation raises the rigor for ELLs who need to utilize their academic language skills to analyze and synthesize their thoughts to explain “why” and defend their answers in the classroom. Laurel Street students no longer struggle to find evidence because they go beyond expecting students to find it by expecting them to provide a rationale for its use.  <span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>#10.  Instill a growth mindset in your students and they will do it!<span “font-size:10.5pt;font-family:”tahoma”,”sans-serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
<span “font-size:10.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Laurel Street teachers report that talking to their students using a growth mindset (“I can do better than this!”) versus a fixed mindset (“This is the best I can do.”) has changed students’ trajectories.  Teachers report that this has gone viral in their classrooms, where students identify fixed mindset in their classmates to help them develop a growth mindset that will take them so much farther.