With over 600,000 students, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the largest school district in California, and the second largest in the nation. It also has one of the highest percentages of English Learners at 150,000 students. LAUSD cannot reach education equity without addressing the needs of its EL students.
Luckily, Francisco Villegas, the Vice President of School Transformation, with the Partnership for LA Schools understands this. The Partnership for LA Schools embeds employees as coaches at middle schools around Los Angeles. Under Villegas’ purview, they work with around 40 teachers, in 5-7 schools at any one time. As part of his mission to transform high needs schools and help ensure that students are set up for success, he recognized that many of these schools have high EL populations and that supporting these students was critical.
As part of the Gates Foundation’s Professional Learning Partnership initiative, Villegas brought ELSF on board to support this work by meeting with the coaches to identify ways to better support educators working with EL students. The curriculum being used by these schools, a version of Illustrative Mathematics, is typically language and discussion heavy, featuring many activities and tools designed to provide an opportunity to learn through conversation and dialogue. However, COVID-19 required a shift to digital-based, distanced learning, so efforts were underway to streamline this curriculum to adapt to these circumstances.
During initial meetings, ELSF determined that there was a lack of data and insight into the EL experience from both the teacher and student perspective. Teachers couldn’t point to any systematic ways in which they were adapting the curriculum to virtual learning, and didn’t have a clear understanding of the needs of their EL students, particularly in the COVID-19 environment.
As a result ELSF proposed a teacher survey, framed at understanding how all students were faring with the curriculum, with questions designed to better understand what gaps existed between EL students and their non-EL counterparts. The information in initial meetings provided some idea of what challenges and opportunities might exist, and the survey validated anecdotal evidence and allowed the Partnership for LA Schools to prioritize top key professional needs.
With an 80% response rate of 42 teachers surveyed, ELSF was able to work with the Partnership for LA Schools to analyze the data and pinpoint areas where a gap existed between the performance of ELs and the classroom as a whole. The survey discovered the following key areas of opportunity for supporting educators in better serving their EL students:
The implementation and analysis of this teacher survey helped equip ELSF with an accurate understanding of the needs of both teachers and students in these classrooms. Based on these results, ELSF is working with the Partnership for LA Schools to develop supports for each of these high-needs areas. In addition to the supports, indicators are being developed to understand how progress has been made and whether the gap between EL students and non-EL students has been closed for each particular area of need.
This comprehensive, objective, data-driven effort between ELSF and the Partnership for LA Schools serves as a model for how to create a survey to gauge educator needs to better support EL students.