Standards for Preschool ELLs: It’s a Trend

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 20, 2007 2 min read
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California is poised to be the first state to adopt a set of standards, which state officials call “learning foundations,” for English-language development devoted to preschool ELLs, according to officials of the California Department of Education. The California standards spell out what preschool ELLs should know at the “beginning,” “middle,” and “later” stages of learning English for the areas of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Find a link to them here.

In trying to figure out what kind of ground California is breaking, I found out that Maryland is set to adopt standards for English-language development that include the prekindergarten level. The proposed standards are grouped for grades prekindergarten-5 and 6-12. Check them out here.

Also, World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, a consortium of 15 states housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has included prekindergarten in its 2007 edition of standards for English-language development. WIDA has created a separate set of English-language-development standards for prekindergarten and kindergarten together. Previously, it had K-2 grouped together, Tim Boals, the executive director of WIDA, told me in a telephone interview this week.

States are required by the No Child Left Behind Act to have English-language proficiency standards for ELLs in grades K-12—not for preschoolers. But Mr. Boals said the consortium added the prekindergarten level this year because “a lot of schools now include prekindergarten, and it’s beneficial for the teachers to have standards.”

Norman Yee, the vice president of the school board of the San Francisco Unified School District, said he is concerned about what he views as a trend of the K-12 philosophy of education moving “downward” to reach younger children. He believes California’s proposed “learning foundations” are evidence of that trend. Mr. Yee, who used to head an organization that ran several preschools in California, would rather see the philosophy of preschool moving “upward” into K-12.

In a good preschool program, said Mr. Yee, “we consider a child individually, where they are at. We try to develop their interests in a very holistic way. We will provide activities and less focus on only a few items, such as the ABCs. Yes, we want them to do [the ABCs], but we want them to love education and love reading.”

(Nov. 27 Update: My article about this topic in Education Week, “California Weighs Preschool ELL Standards,” has been posted.)

What do you think? Does your state need a set of comprehensive standards for English-language development in preschool?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.