Curriculum Audits of Districts and Schools for English Language Learners

AIR’s district and school consultation services include curriculum audits of districts and schools in Corrective Action. These audits are pursuant to the accountability requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The purpose is to determine what practices and strategies enable some elementary and middle schools to reach high levels of performance for students despite the challenges they face. Data collection and analysis focuses on schools where English language learners (ELLs) have been successful as well as schools which have consistently failed to make AYP for the ELL subgroup. Principal survey and district administrator interviews are conducted across all schools included in the study; with school staff interviews, classroom observations, teacher surveys, and document reviews occurring in sub-samples of high and low achieving schools. Combined analyses of these data sources have supported the development of key findings.

Key Findings

AIR’s research to date points to eight key findings:

  • First, in the high performing schools, teachers are much more likely to use core English Language Arts (ELA) standards to guide their instruction when working with ELLs. Interviews and observations of teachers in low performing schools often indicate the use of different or modified standards.
  • Second, teachers in the high performing schools were more likely implement instructional strategies that allowed students to master the material contained in those ELA standards than teachers in low performing schools. For example, picture word walls and modified texts that enabled students to access challenging material without “dumbing it down” were standard in high performing classrooms. Furthermore, teachers in high performing schools were more likely to instruct students using small group rather than whole group activities. They engaged students in collaborative activities and in sustained reading and writing activities involving a workshop approach far more often. Teachers in these schools also built on student diversity and used students’ backgrounds to help in conceptualization of new learning. Finally, teachers in high performing schools give students much more feedback on both oral and written language production than their lower performing counterparts, took more time to stop and check for understanding, and made more extensive use of wait time.
  • A third key finding indicated that data-driven instruction was more well established in high performing schools compared to lower performing ones, and that the data came from multiple sources.
  • A fourth finding revealed that a consistently enforced school wide behavior plan was more likely to be found in high performing schools than in low performing schools.
  • Fifth, ELLs in high performing schools were found to benefit from a broader range of supplemental services, many of which were offered before or after school, on weekends, and even in the summer.
  • Sixth, the professional development offered to staffs of high performing schools was found to be greater in scope and depth, more cohesive, and targeted to the needs of ELLs than in low performing schools.
  • Seventh, teachers in high performing schools were more likely to collaborate both formally and informally to analyze data and discuss student performance both as individuals and in groups. In high performing schools, times were also more likely to be built into the master schedule to permit teachers to engage in these activities and to allow classroom teachers and ESL professionals time for consultation.
  • A final key finding was that teachers in high performing schools receive more instructional guidance and support from the school administration than teachers in low performing schools. When asked what the school did really well when it came to educating ELLs, one teacher said, “Our principal gives teachers lots of support. Whatever they need, she looks at the data very closely and if the kids are deficient in some skill, she provides extra hours (of support) for them. She provides books, materials…that can help. She’s very good at that-very, very good.” The sample of schools was selected in collaboration with school district administration. High performing schools were those whose status was “in good standing” during the 2009-10 school year. The accountability status of the low-performing schools was either School Improvement, Corrective Action, or Restructuring due to failure to make AYP for the ELL subgroup.
Patricia Garcia-Arena
Principal Researcher