Evaluation of Program Models for ELs: Let’s Check and Reflect

Very rarely do the words evaluation or audit invoke happy, anticipatory emotions. Evaluation of English language programs is a necessary and helpful part of assuring equity for English learners (ELs). The topic of this blog is about resources available to support an EL program evaluation. Awareness of resources available prior to being formally evaluated allows for more time to see what’s out there. Check out the resources in this blog in advance to reflect on your program model without the added pressure of getting it done hurriedly to meet an audit deadline.

What Effective Programs Should Be Able to Do

The federal guidance around evaluating the effectiveness of EL program models states:

…Departments consider whether the program succeeds, after a legitimate trial, in producing results that indicate that students’ language barriers are actually being overcome. In other words, the Departments look at whether performance data of current EL, former EL, and never EL students demonstrates that the EL programs were in fact reasonably calculated to enable EL students to attain parity of participation in the standard instructional program within a reasonable length of time. (U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education, 2015, p. 35)

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) has an entire chapter in Tools and Resources for Evaluating the Effectiveness of a District’s EL Program (U.S. Department of Education, 2016) dedicated to this very process. Key points from Chapter 9 include the following:

  • Successful EL programs enable EL students to attain both English proficiency and parity of participation in the standard instructional program within a reasonable period of time.
  • LEAs [local education agencies] should collect longitudinal data to monitor and compare the performance of current ELs, former ELs, and never-ELs in the LEA’s standard instructional program. Data should not be limited to data collected for [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] accountability purposes.
  • When EL programs do not produce both English proficiency and parity of participation within a reasonable period of time, [state education agencies] and LEAs must modify the EL program.
    (Chapter 9, p.1)

Tools to Increase Program Evaluation Readiness

Tools and Resources for Evaluating the Effectiveness of a District’s EL Program (U.S. Department of Education, 2016) provide four tools for various stakeholders who are responsible for EL programs:

Tool #1: Evaluating Programs and Services for English Learners
This tool provides a general overview of program evaluation.

Tool #2: Improving SEA Systems to Support All Students
This tool is geared toward state education agencies (SEAs) and their specific needs and goals for improving outcomes.

Tool #3: Improving LEA Systems to Support English Learners
This tool is designed for local education agencies (LEAs) and contains seven dimensions that outline expectations around leadership, personnel, professional development, instructional program design, instructional implementation, assessment and accountability, and parent and community outreach

Tool #4: Improving School-Based Systems for English Learners
This tool is a survey designed for principals and created by Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands (REL-NEI) to help school communities assess the needs of their school leaders around serving ELs.

This document is a quick, yet highly informative read for those who are interested in program evaluation from the perspective of various stakeholders. In fact, the chapter alone could be used as part of a professional learning opportunity.

Scenario: Data Awareness

The following scenario illustrates just one aspect of program evaluation that has the potential to be inadvertently overlooked:

In a recent conversation with small groups of general education elementary teachers, the topic of analyzing English language proficiency (ELP) data comes up. The school has a small population of ELs with the majority of the students opting out from services. For those who do receive services, the school has a bilingual model for a short portion of the day. The majority of the teachers have not previously had access to their students’ ELP reports and have had limited to no professional learning about how to best use this type of data to help support second language acquisition and content concepts. Very few of the teachers can explain their state’s criteria used to determine when a student has reached proficiency in English, also known as the “Exit Criteria.” Teachers are surprised the reports exist and are anxious to learn more about their students’ performance.

What stands out to you most? What might be the next steps as part of a program audit for this district? What should the school leader do as a follow up?

Another commonly overlooked aspect of this work is inclusive parent outreach. In one instance, a school district’s documents were being translated into the most common home language of students (Spanish), but not into the language of a growing student population (Arabic).

What You Can Do

Inclusive Mindset
The danger of thinking the data is for some teachers but not all can further the divide between bilingual/ESL teachers and general education teachers that may already exist. The aforementioned scenario led the school leadership to rethink their process for sharing ELP reports in a more productive way. When ELP reports or other documents containing valuable information that can potentially support instruction for ELs are kept in folders for compliance purposes, we are only doing half of the work.

Check and Reflect
Reflection is an important part of the evaluation process. Besides rating, scoring, or simply checking boxes, really thinking about the how and why behind program evaluations can lead to deeper inquiry and ultimately support efforts to improve programs for ELs. Don’t limit your evaluation to the prescribed questions. I’d encourage school communities to seek out areas that may not have previously been explored, such as access to parent-teacher association (PTA) initiatives and related school community opportunities for linguistically diverse families. Consider the participation rates of ELs across district and schoolwide extracurricular activities, like science fairs and spelling bees.

Continue Learning
Making assumptions about one’s program model can leave a number of areas unaddressed. In the aforementioned scenario, the school leader was surprised the teachers did not have certain information about their students. How can we demand that teachers teach smarter, differentiate instruction, use culturally responsive pedagogy, reach all learners, and teach the “whole child” if we don’t provide them with the tools and resources they need to be able do so?

Questions to Think About

  • How prepared for a program evaluation is your program?
  • What is required of you by your SEA and/or LEA?
  • If your program was previously evaluated, have all areas been addressed and improvements maintained?
  • What assumptions about your program models exist? How can we become more aware of programmatic needs that are immediately addressable? (E.g., teachers have access to English language proficiency data.)
  • Who are your allies and thought partners who can help you through program evaluations and improvements?
  • How is EL program success defined and measured? How are those results shared out with stakeholders?

The ultimate goal is not for program evaluations to be punitive, but empowering. Once educators know areas to address, the sooner they can address them and the sooner students can be better served.

Next month’s blog is about ELs with learning disabilities and how we are supporting students who may be identified as such. Next month’s blog will be posted during the week of TESOL International Association’s Annual Convention. I look forward to seeing my fellow TESOLers who plan to be in Denver, Colorado, in person.


U.S. Department of Education. (2016). English learner toolkit for state and local education agencies (SEAs and LEAs). https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oela/english-learner-toolkit/index.html

U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Dear colleague letter. English learner students and limited English proficient parents. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-el-201501.pdf

About Ayanna Cooper

Ayanna Cooper
Ayanna Cooper, EdD, is a consultant, author, keynote speaker, and advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. As owner of ACooper Consulting, she provides technical assistance to state departments of education and other clients with the goal of improving outcomes for students. She emphasizes the importance of building capacity to develop and sustain English language programs, use English language proficiency data, and improve instructional practices. She is currently serving on the TESOL Board of Directors.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.