A. Culturally Competent School System
In order to foster true democratic opportunity and participation, NASBE believes that policymakers and practitioners need to develop a culturally competent education system that helps all students and school staff interact constructively with individuals from diverse backgrounds; helps students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to achieve to high standards; and fosters a renewed focus on the ideals that bind rather than divide all Americans.
Such a system addresses persistent underachievement, stereotyping, and intolerance by focusing on three related aims: 1) culturally competent schools encourage individuals to understand differences among groups of people; 2) culturally competent schools foster high levels of learning in all students; and 3) culturally competent schools strengthen the nation. In addition, a culturally competent school system:
- Uses high-quality academic standards and standards- based accountability as the basis of instruction for all students, thereby assuring policymakers, educators, and parents that no group of students is being left behind in the back rooms of education.
- Reports assessment data disaggregated by race or ethnicity, gender, income, special needs, and English language proficiency.
- Adopts a curriculum that fosters cultural competency.
- Demonstrates respect for students’ identities and welcomes a diverse community to participate in schools.
- Acknowledges students’ diverse learning styles.
- Ensures qualified personnel for all students.
- Provides extra help for schools and students who need it.
- Promotes in students a sense of national unity and civic responsibility while at the same time instilling an understanding of other cultures and their contributions to our society.
- Encourage state P-20 systems to develop standards for ensuring culturally competent education. (2002, 2012; for more information, see NASBE’s report: A More Perfect Union: Building an Education System that Embraces All Children)
B. English Language Learners
- State boards of education should consider establishing clear language learning goals, or revisiting and clarifying their existing goals, to guide the work of educators at every level and lay a rational foundation for further policy development. Such goals would include:
- expectations that English language learners will progress to academic proficiency in English and placement in regular, challenging classrooms as rapidly as possible, without setting arbitrary, one-size-fits-all timelines that do not take into account the learning needs of individual students;
- expectations that all students will become proficient in a second language (or more), including reading, writing, speaking, and cultural understanding, and will be provided opportunities to do so at every educational level; and
- preservation of specific endangered heritage languages in the state by fostering new generations of speakers.
- State boards of education should standardize how English language learners are identified and tracked.
- State education leaders should use a variety of policy levers to recruit and prepare adequate numbers of specialized, highly qualified ESL and world language teachers.
- State boards of education should require that all educators learn basic ESL concepts and techniques.
- State boards of education should select/develop and administer a comprehensive system of valid and reliable assessments to hold schools accountable for students’ English language proficiency and mastery of academic content. Guiding principles for such a system include the following:
- Multiple measures of performance, such as portfolio assessment, hands-on demonstrations, and performance-based assessment, should be employed to obtain a more comprehensive picture of students’ language skills and content knowledge;
- School officials, in consultation with ESL-trained educators, should be permitted to determine when an English language learner has attained sufficient English proficiency that the student’s academic progress can be appropriately assessed using an English language test;
- Content-area assessments in English should undergo rigorous review for language difficulty. Test questions should be modified to minimize unnecessary linguistic complexity and cultural bias without “dumbing down” the content being tested; and
- The literacy skills of an incoming ELL student should be assessed in both English and the student’s native language, if possible. (2008; for more information, see NASBE’s report, E Pluribus Unum: English, Language Education, and America’s Future.)