New programs help English-language learners

While math is about numbers, if students do not have the ability to understand a teacher’s instruction or ask a specific question, it hampers their mastery of the lesson. This presents a particular problem in a “building block” subject such as math, which builds upon previous lessons.

“It’s critical to provide instruction that includes both language and content objectives,” Bresser said. has developed an ELL-specific version of its Aha!Math supplemental K-5 math curriculum.

The web-based product helps bilingual educators use native-language content for younger students, and it lets ELL instructors provide English-language instruction with native-language support for grades three through five.

It also includes a bilingual math glossary and an ELL strategy guide. Teachers can use an online journal feature to create math and language literacy exercises for students to use in English, Spanish, or both.

The group Digital Directions International (DDI) hopes to address ELL math education with its HELP Math program.

HELP Math is designed for third through eighth-grade ELL students by offering more than 200 hours of math content and skills development with interwoven English-language support and acquisition. It’s also used by high schools for remediation, and it’s aligned with state standards through pre- and post-diagnostic placement assessments at each grade level.

HELP Math, which formally launched about a year ago, is being used in schools across the country, including James P. Sinnott Intermediate School (IS 218) in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Originally, we looked to Help Math to improve results for our ELLs and bilingual students in math, who often displayed a lack of academic vocabulary and found math incomprehensible. We wanted to increase both their content-area proficiency and state test scores,” said Joseph Costa, principal of IS 218.

“The teachers found that [owing] to the comprehensiveness of the curriculum, its ability to provide differentiated instruction, and [its] engaging manner, it could benefit all their students. It’s now used by all student populations, including ELLs, special-needs [students], resource room/pull-out programs, and advanced students.”

Testing is a challenge

Testing remains an issue, and advocates of assessment reform say that high-stakes and benchmarking tests should be altered for students who are still trying to master the English language.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has urged the NAEP to alter the way it tests ELLs so that educators will get more accurate data to inform their instruction and close the achievement gap.

Christine Rowland, a New York City teacher who testified before the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) on behalf of the AFT in November, said assessment and accountability are key in making sure ELL students receive the right amount and kind of help in school.

The NAGB, which administers NAEP exams, has recommended creating a uniform set of rules to test ELL students.

Rowland said challenges such as inadequate instructional resources and high dropout rates must be addressed.

“Current testing practices that assess ELLs’ content knowledge in English are often not fair, valid, reliable, or appropriate,” Rowland said. “The call to encourage a uniform participation rate among ELLs is valuable [and] could well lead to more ELL-focused reforms around the country.”


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