Change of Course for Multilingual Students in Rhode Island

Jan 18, 2021 by

New education blueprint holds much promise to turn things around for English learners enrolled in Rhode Island public schools.

Last month the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) released their Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success, a document filled with dynamic aspirations to help them better serve multilingual learners (MLL), or students who are learning English in addition to their home language(s). In doing so, Rhode Island joins other states including Massachusetts, Oregon, California, and New York in taking on the monumental feat of designing a cohesive statewide vision and approach to English learner (EL) education. Like those that came before it, Rhode Island’s plan represents a meticulous review of the education ecosystem that surrounds MLLs, while keeping an eye on how to ensure they go on to lead successful lives post-graduation.

Rhode Island’s blueprint is driven by a vision where the education system is designed to ensure MLLs are successful, and goes as far as to define the characteristics they hope to instill in each student (Figure 1). This overhaul could not come at a better time as the quality of MLL education in the state has been subject to strict scrutiny in recent years. In 2018 the U.S. Department of Justice determined Providence Public Schools was not fulfilling ELs’ constitutional rights—a stark finding considering nearly half of the state’s ELs are enrolled in this school district alone. What is more, recent data from the state’s English language proficiency assessment found that there are actually students in the system that have been receiving EL services for 12 years and have yet to reach proficiency.

To help turn this around, RIDE has identified five dynamic principles to transform the system into one built for MLL success (Figure 2). Together, these two frameworks represent a significant break from the status quo where MLL students have been seen as a liability rather than an asset and have therefore been educated under inequitable conditions. For example, an independent review of public schools in Providence found that ELs don’t always have a teacher or aide that speaks their language with them in the classroom, and a shortage of EL-certified teachers has led to oversized classrooms where students are not provided the support they need to fully engage in their own education.

To address these shortcomings, RIDE intends to pair an asset-based approach with a high-quality instructional system where the responsibility for supporting MLLs’ language growth and development lies with all educators, not just one or two token individuals. Furthermore, the blueprint includes a heavy commitment to simultaneously building ELs’ core content knowledge and language development instruction through better-aligned curriculum, materials, assessments, and professional learning opportunities for all educators.

Figure 1. Six Key Characteristics of Successful MLLs

Source: Rhode Island Department of Education, Draft Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success, 2020.

Figure 2. Five Principles for MLL Success

Source: Rhode Island Department of Education, Draft Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success, 2020.

RIDE’s blueprint follows some of the recommendations our team has identified as good practice from other statewide EL reforms. In reading the draft document, though, it is clear that this blueprint is simply one piece of a much larger puzzle. After all, aspirational declarations alone do not equate change. Consequently, the Blueprint is complemented by a draft Strategic Plan for Multilingual Success that outlines how RIDE’s vision for MLLs will be pursued. This action-oriented document provides the more granular details about how the department intends to achieve full implementation within 3-5 years (2023-2026).

Nestled in this accompanying plan is a critical component in EL education reform efforts — the need to align policies and regulations with the Blueprint’s goals. In its own implementation strategy, New York State made a concerted effort to codify many of their ideas through regulatory avenues, and elected/appointed bilingual leaders to drive the change they wanted to see throughout the education system. While the fact that this is included in the plan is a positive indicator, only time will tell if RIDE and other education leaders in the state will be able to back up their aspirational plans with tangible and enforceable action. If implemented effectively, the department hopes to prepare MLLs to “thrive in equitable postsecondary career paths, as well as to engage socially, politically, and economically, both in our state and globally”.

To be sure, the stakes are high in ensuring this blueprint is followed through on as the education and futures of thousands of students are on the line. In 2019, current and former ELs represented 16 percent of the total student population, roughly 23,931 students. More recent data from the statewide English language proficiency assessment administered in February 2020 identified that of the 15,555 ELs assessed, the majority (84 percent) were economically disadvantaged, 15 percent qualified for special education services (also known as dual-identified ELs), and 75 percent were Latinx. Surely, the education needs of these students vary from school to school, district to district, which means local context and student-level characteristics should be heavily considered in how this blueprint is pursued moving forward.

At the helm of this work is RIDE’s Commissioner of Education Angelica Infante-Green who was instrumental in the development of New York’s pioneer reform, but the blueprint and strategic plan are still in the early stages. The department is requesting input and feedback on both of these documents and has made the form available in English, Portuguese and Spanish. The current drafts are the product of working groups of teachers, district leaders, student groups, advocates, and institutes of higher education, however, a real transformation will require much deeper buy-in from the community. If you believe you have something to offer this effort, please make sure to make your voice heard by March 14, 2021.

Source: Change of Course for Multilingual Students in Rhode Island

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.