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Tennessee Department of Education Releases New Resources to Support English Learners

NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Department of Education released today a framework for supporting and empowering districts to more effectively serve their students who are English Learners. This new resource is designed to support administrators, educators, and advocates as a reference guide and a tool as they meet the unique needs of this group of students.

The department developed the framework to help districts implement new requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which is part of the department’s Tennessee Succeeds plan. ESSA has a heightened focus on ensuring English learners are learning and growing. The tool released today helps all teachers – not just those who teach English as a second language (ESL) programs – understand the needs of English learners and the best instructional practices to support their classroom success.

Alongside the department’s English as a Second Language Manual, these resources will inform decisions on planning, assist teachers in differentiating supports for students, and ensure that ESL programs are implemented with fidelity and in the best interest of students.

“Our vision is that all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully embark upon their chosen path in life, and this includes students who are learning English,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “We are committed to ensuring that English Learners have the same opportunities for success with access to rigorous coursework, early postsecondary opportunities, and highly effective teachers on every step of their educational journey as we further the work for equity and excellence in public education.”

As the English Learner population has steadily grown across the country, Tennessee’s EL population has more than doubled in the past ten years. In the 2016-17 school year, 132 Tennessee districts and 1,451 schools served ELs, with 17 districts serving a population of ELs exceeding 6 percent of their student body. As a result, districts and educators have been tasked with supporting ELs in both language acquisition and content knowledge by providing instruction tailored to the needs of this group of students. To support this work, the department has developed the new framework that outlines supports for ELs and provided the ESL Manual to offer guidance for teachers and administrators who are working to improve outcomes for ELs. These complement a policy update from the State Board of Education that requires general education teachers who engage with ELs to be trained on the WIDA development standards, which the department is offering in April.

In Tennessee, schools are expected to meet the needs of all students, and those who are furthest behind and have been historically underserved must be prioritized, as demonstrated by the department’s commitment to All Means All in Tennessee Succeeds, the department’s strategic plan. Further, Tennessee’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan, which is a continuation of Tennessee Succeeds, outlines supports for ELs as they are developing English language acquisition skills and academic skills. Tennessee’s ESSA state plan is grounded in equity, which includes access, opportunity, and supports for all students with an increased emphasis on both the proficiency and achievement of ELs. With the new guidelines and accountability, district and school leaders are called to review and to make data-driven decisions to benefit all students, especially for historically underserved student groups.

Additionally, divisions across the state department are working to provide dynamic and coordinated professional development focused on supporting ELs for general education teachers through a series of workshops and work sessions provided within professional learning across Tennessee. Districts are further empowered through increased learning around ESL program designs and provided continuous support as they select the design that best fits their EL population and local needs. The state is actively developing even more programs and resources that districts can use to create an individualized learning plan and a growth trajectory for English language acquisition for each EL in grades K-12.

The complete framework for supporting English Learners is available online here. For more information about the department’s English Learner resources, contact Jan Lanier, director of English Learner, immigrant & migrant programs, at [email protected] For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast, director of communications, at (615) 532-6260 or [email protected]