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Group To Develop Content Standards for E.S.L. Students

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The group Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages has begun developing subject-area standards for language-minority students in English-as-a-second-language classes.

TESOL, which represents educators at all levels around the world, a relatively small fraction of whom are E.S.L. teachers in U.S. elementary and secondary schools, held its national meeting here this month.

Attendees at the conference were urged to sign letters asking the U.S. Education Department to fund the group's project, as it has for organizations working in English, science, the arts, and other disciplines.

Last fall, TESOL estimated that it would need up to $600,000 over three years to complete its standards project.

But Eugene E. Garcia, the director of the department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, said that while the department probably would not fund the standards, it would work with the group on achievement and assessment measures for L.E.P. students.

Leaders of the group said they would develop the standards even without funding from the federal agency or other outside sources.

Sponsors of the TESOL standards said they would help counter a concern voiced by many advocates for civil rights and L.E.P. students: that setting national academic standards for all children means that students who face special obstacles, such as disabilities or L.E.P. status, will be left behind. (See Education Week, June 2, 1993.)

Complicating Factors

The TESOL standards would outline what every student in an E.S.L. class should know and be able to do as a result of such instruction.

The group also plans to develop standards to guide E.S.L. teachers' professional development and E.S.L. curriculum development, said Fred H. Genesee, the president of TESOL and a professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal.

"It's not good enough to say that the ultimate achievement of L.E.P. students should be the same as English-speakers','' Mr. Genesee said. "Our responsibility is to guide people [through standards] into programs that will insure that.''

A set of basic principles drafted by the group urges that, as a result of E.S.L. instruction, students should be able to:

  • Use English for social and academic purposes.
  • Develop high levels of proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing English by using challenging subject matter.
  • Use cognitive strategies to facilitate the second-languagelearning process.
  • Understand and appreciate the influence of culture on language learning and social conduct.

Observers pointed to a number of factors that could complicate the group's efforts, however. Many education experts do not recognize E.S.L. as a separate discipline similar to math or science.

In addition, other subjects have benchmarked their standards for students by grade level. But with L.E.P. students, English proficiency fluctuates from grade to grade.

Another concern is that the E.S.L. standards would duplicate English standards currently being developed by the National Council of Teachers of English. The N.C.T.E. has not yet taken a position on that issue, according to Janet Emig, the chairwoman of the group's standards project.

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