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Path to Success: Improving Equitable Access and Academic Rigor for Long-term English Learners
By Paul R. Hanson
Science Teacher and Department Coordinator, Liberty High School, Hillsboro, Oregon

“A school with high academic optimism is a collectivity in which the faculty believes it can make a difference, that students can learn,
and that high academic performance can
be achieved."        
  – Hoy, Tarter, & Hoy, 2006
Long-term English learners at Liberty High School have experienced tremendous academic growth over the past four years. It hasn’t been easy, but thanks to a few pivotal changes, our school has turned a corner in the achievement – and confidence level – of English learners.

In 2010-11, Liberty’s long-term English learners (LTELs) were doing the bare minimum amount of coursework they needed to graduate. Very few risked taking advanced social studies or language arts, and most took the minimum number of science and math classes. There was a glaring difference between the demographics of our advanced classes and of our school as a whole.

The vast majority of Liberty’s LTELs are Hispanic. Four years ago, these students were falling into a huge opportunity gap: Hispanic enrollment was less than 20% of total course enrollment in advanced courses across the curriculum. Liberty’s staff wanted to close that gap and change the trajectory for LTELs. Our target was to increase Hispanic enrollment in advanced courses to 40%, to be reflective of our school demographics.
Since 2011, we’ve made significant changes that are leading to impressive growth in access and achievement for LTELs. The graphs above tell the story: we’re seeing a trend of steady growth in Hispanic enrollment in all advanced courses, from science to language arts. For instance, in 2014-2015, these students’ enrollment in AP European History is forecasted to be 47.22% – a big step up from 10.52% four years ago. Enrollment in our Portland State University Senior Inquiry program, a series of interdisciplinary college-level courses, is projected to be almost 50% Hispanic next year.

The improvements for LTELs correspond with increasing numbers of students choosing to do the advanced/honors work in foundational courses. In 2010-11, only 17 students enrolled in AP Biology; that number jumped to 60 in 2011-12 and then to 120 in 2013-14. We’ve also had a substantial decrease in failure rates: the freshman failure rate dropped from 15% in 2009-10 to 6.2% the next year, and to less than 5% two years later. We’ve also seen a significant increase in students electing to take science courses beyond those required for graduation. Rather than avoid science as they did before, many students are now taking two science classes in one year.
Three key factors have made these improvements possible:
1. Liberty High School staff believes that we have the ability to improve student achievement.
We’ve created a culture of academic optimism – a shift in how teachers view students and how students view themselves as able to be successful with appropriate scaffolding. The school’s leadership is instilled with a value of success for all students, and the entire staff shares the belief that we want to engage and challenge all of our learners.
2. Our staff wants equity for all students.
We don’t want AP classrooms and at-level classrooms to look like two entirely different schools. Previously, we had a traditional tracking system, particularly in the sciences, which resulted in at-level courses turning into remedial courses. We eliminated many of the prerequisites and the tracking, and opened up access to the advanced curriculum. We embedded honors activities within mixed-ability classes so students could opt in to the advanced options. This has created a climate where LTELs feel supported and safe to take the risk to do honors level work.
3. Liberty prioritizes targeted professional development for our staff.
We had the vision and the will, but we needed time and training to develop the skills necessary to implement our vision. Our school adopted new approaches to teaching, including E.L. Achieve’s Constructing Meaning, to help us close our achievement gaps. In 2011, Liberty’s core freshman teachers were trained in Constructing Meaning (CM) to build their ability to make content comprehensible for all learners, especially English language learners.
CM has been very much a part of creating success for our LTELs. We now have the resources to accelerate our instruction. While we were already providing students with differentiation and opportunities for higher levels of thinking, we needed additional support to know how to include the language instruction that was necessary for them to express the complexity of their thinking. Supporting the development of expressive language has opened many doors for students to engage and achieve.
Our staff's ongoing professional development includes weekly academic seminars to collaborate in developing our academic skills and making content more accessible to more students, as well as peer observations to share feedback and problem-solving strategies. We focus on engagement strategies to capitalize and build upon students’ background knowledge in order to support rigorous and culturally relevant teaching.
Thanks to academic optimism, a belief in equity, and targeted professional development, Liberty’s failure rates have dropped while AP numbers have soared and now reflect the cultural and linguistic demographics of our school.
But beyond changing the data, we’ve also experienced a paradigm shift in the academic climate, and students have responded phenomenally. Our LTELs have more opportunities for success because they feel safe to take on a challenge. It is exciting to see LTELs who used to say, “I don’t know if I can do it,” now flocking to advanced classes. They are no longer quiet, passive kids sitting on the side, not turning in assignments. They see themselves as being successful and capable. And, there is a greater sense of buy-in and inclusion throughout our whole school community.
Constructing Meaning in the Arts
By Scott Townsend
E.L. Achieve Secondary Services Team

“I am so glad that the arts community has gotten the message that the arts have a central and essential role in achieving the finest aspects of the common core.”
        – David Coleman, president of The College
           Board and Common Core State Standards
           (CCSS) author
In addition to fostering the study and creation of art, arts instruction contributes to improved academic literacy. By examining the first of Coleman’s Guiding Principles for the Arts: Grades K–12, we can begin to
see the literacy connection and ways in which Constructing Meaning (CM) strategies can help students express their understanding of the arts.

Principle #1: Studying works of art as training in close observation across the arts disciplines and preparing students to create and perform in the arts.

The Common Core asks art teachers to engage students in “reading” masterpieces of art similar to the way we read great literature and nonfiction. Good art cannot be fathomed with a single viewing or listening. Art students learn more from the work as they look or listen closely, examine details, and discuss their interpretations. When they engage with works of art – from painting, to music, to theater – students interact with complex ideas and issues brought to light by the work while also learning about the artist’s choices in creating the piece.

Students need a full range of academic language to engage in dialogue about art. For example, they may be asked to cite evidence from a painting to support their claim that a particular piece should fall under the classification of impressionism or realism. They may be asked to compare and contrast the essential features or moods of two styles of music.
As in other academic content areas, art classes can pose significant language challenges for English learners. They need focused support to express their understanding of a director’s treatment of a script, the mood created by a composer in a particular piece of music, or an artist’s use of color and light.

The CM planning process, with its emphasis on backward design, guides art teachers in determining high-leverage academic language to model with each lesson. CM also provides tools with embedded language supports, such as Discussion Cards and the Says, Means, Matters note-taking template. This note-taker offers students sample language to introduce their observations and interpretations, and to make connections to previous learning. The note-taking template can easily be modified to include task-specific language, such as “the painter emphasizes” or “the composer uses.”

When students have opportunities to practice, they begin to internalize academic language while learning about the arts. As they build their knowledge base, they also begin to build bridges between subject areas – the same discourse structures they use for a discussion of literature might help them express understanding and analysis of a work of art. And as they grow this dexterity in language across the disciplines, everything they learn helps to hone their skills for their own creative work.

• Path to Success:
  Improving Equitable
  Access and Academic
  Rigor for Long-term
  English Learners
• From the Blog:
  Constructing Meaning 
  in the Arts
• 2014 Leadership

• New Constructing
• 2014 Symposia: Stellar
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2014 Leadership Seminars

During the five-day Leadership Seminar, district teams learn to support teachers in designing and delivering instruction. This is a rejuvenating professional development opportunity for emerging and experienced instructional leaders. Participants expand their knowledge of Systematic ELD or Constructing Meaning to support colleagues in applying the approach to Common Core instruction.
Each seminar includes a three-day administrator strand for site and district leaders to dig deeper into implementation and plan next steps for the district vision for English learners.
Find an application under Leadership Seminar on our events page.

2014 Summer Leadership Seminars:

Salt Lake City, UT
June 16–20

San Jose, CA
June 23–27

Denver, CO
July 21–25

Portland, OR
August 11–15
New Constructing Meaning Website

E.L. Achieve is excited to announce the launch of our newly designed Constructing Meaning website. Visit the website to learn more about Constructing Meaning and for Institute participant login.
Check out the updated resources and tools for classroom, school, and district implementation. Please continue to visit the home page for information on new CM products, event dates, and Blog/eNewsletter announcements.
2014 Symposia: Stellar Success!

Thanks to the participation of our amazing community, the E.L. Achieve 2014 Symposia were a terrific success. In five events, a total of 850 people joined us, representing 10 states and 99 school districts/charter academy teams. We were thrilled to have teachers, coaches, principals, and district administrators in attendance – and we're inspired by their insights:
 â€œI am so excited that teachers from my school are here and have the time to collaborate and learn together. I believe this will impact our program positively and sustain growth/collaboration in the future.”
 â€œThe Refining Our Practice rubrics that come with the Systematic ELD Units are an excellent way for coaches to quantify and systematize their observations and are also an amazing self-reflection resource for teachers.”
“Writing about and discussing the student and teacher data we collect in my district made me realize we need to focus more on student performance and what to do when students aren’t where we think they are or ‘should’ be.”

 â€œI can add rigor to the lesson by varying the linguistic complexity but using the same cognitive skills or content.”
“I learned that you need more than just a program. You need to have the fundamental belief that ALL kids can learn!”

We were nourished and energized by these events, and we hope you were too. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s Symposia!
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