Providing the Language of Translation to Serve Ohio’s English Learners, Families, Educators

Written by Marcie Kamb, July 19, 2022

Center on Education and Training for Employment grant expands past experience

Ohio is home to over 60,000 English language students and growing.

Students who are learning English continue to be a growing part of Ohio’s pre-K-12 student population. Since 2012, Ohio’s percentage of students who are learning English has doubled to approximately 60,000 students.

Impressively, more than 90 languages are spoken by students across the state of Ohio. Some of the more common languages include Somali, Arabic, Swahili, Chinese, Japanese, Nepali, Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of German French) and Turkish.

Spanish is the home language of almost 40% of these students.  
Students who are learning English are a diverse and dynamic group. Yet, due to a variety of circumstances, these students often experience limited or interrupted schooling.

child working at school desk in orange jacket
A student practices writing skills at her desk.

When any student experiences these conditions, they are more vulnerable to experiencing an emotional or physical withdrawal from school. For some, the impact may be that they never graduate. When students are learning English while also learning other subjects, their educational experiences may be different than those of their native English-speaking peers.

It is no surprise then that while the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted most student populations, the impact on English Learners have been experienced in a more actuate way.
Valerie Kunze is the assistant director of Vulnerable Youth Programs in the Office of Whole Child Supports, Ohio Department of Education. She reflected on the uncertainty around the impact the pandemic has had on Ohio’s students who are learning English and their families.

We are still working to fully define and understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Ohio’s English learners and their families,” Kunze said. She also highlighted a few things gleaned over the last two years with regards to what is needed.

Strong, two-way communication, the availability of mental health resources and targeted supports can begin to address some of these issues that English learners have experienced, she said. “English learners need support to accelerate their learning, and educators need support to do so effectively, with proven strategies for supporting English learners.”

Using collaboration to address the needs

As a translational research center, the Center on Education and Training for Employment (CETE) is well-positioned to assist in the identification, implementation and evaluation of such supports.

To address the issues that have impacted the educational outcomes of Ohio’s English learners, CETE is spearheading a new project under the leadership of Melissa Ross, PsyD, associate director of Research Partnerships and Impacts and co-director of the Equity, Engagement and Evaluation program at CETE.

The new $1.95 million project, Advancing Ohio’s English Learners (AOEL), is a partnership between the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and CETE to strengthen local systems of supports for English learners, their families and the educators who support them.

The voices of families will be central to the success of this effort as students who are learning English often draw on their strengths, and that of their families, as they work to learn English while learning other subjects.
The AOEL project was developed to address the learning loss that resulted from the pandemic, although the need for this support clearly existed well before.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the achievement gaps between English language learners (ELL) and non-ELL students, as reflected in the center’s reading assessment, were 36 points at the fourth-grade level and 44 points at the eighth-grade level.

The pandemic only exacerbated the existing challenges. It contributed to the increased gap in academic achievement between students learning English and their native English-speaking peers.

Goals of the English learners project

An important goal of the new project will be to build the capacity of school personnel to effectively address the unique challenges faced by English learners. At the same time, it also will build upon their linguistic and cultural assets.

Social emotional learning is considered a crucial component for students learning English. Even when educators do not reflect the identities of their students, they can incorporate countless ways to reinforce a sense of belonging.

Respecting and valuing student and familial heritage in a welcoming way to help establish rapport and allow students to feel part of the school and classroom community authentically.

Examples can include findings ways for students to share their stories with their peers and school staff, encouraging them to bring their identities and cultural background into the classrooms, and recognizing holidays of significance to them.

Belinda Gimbert, PhD, an associate professor of educational administration within the college, has deep experience in this subject area. She is principal investigator for two national projects.

Teacher at the front of a classroom pointing to board
A teacher at Eakin Elementary uses a flipchart to facilitate instruction.

The first, Educators and Families for English Language Learners (EFs4ELs), is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and serves teachers in Ohio, Texas and the District of Columbia.

The other project is Helping English Learners and Partners Excel with Research-based Practices and Support (HELPERS), funded by The U.S. Department of Education.  

Gimbert stresses that English learners bring a wealth of assets and funds of knowledge that serve them well as they acquire both the English language and content knowledge.

At the same time, she indicates that English learners achieve grade-level standards with appropriate supports in a welcoming school environment that values linguistic and cultural diversity. English learners flourish with caring teachers, carefully designed instruction and linguistic supports.

The AOEL projects offers the opportunity to bring these best practices to bear to support the success of Ohio’s students who are learning English.

CETE takes a collaborative, community-based approach

CETE positions itself with those in the community who are directly and indirectly affected as experts. They draw on these experts to identify some of the most effective ways to define and address an issue.

“They relied heavily on input from school personnel and stakeholders to determine the scope and depth of this project,” said Jill Kramer, English language coordinator of the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio. She and Gimbert share information regularly.
This approach allowed the researchers to accurately understand how to enhance the work of educators in this area. The educators asked for support in the areas addressed by each part of this project. The items produced will be practical and ready for use by educators.

This approach is expected to result in the creation and dissemination of resources that will enhance the engagement, instruction and support of students who are learning English in Ohio’s schools. The resources will be appropriate for students from prekindergarten to 12th grade and into postgraduation success.  
Gimbert’s Professional Learning for Pre-K-12 Educators team has worked with preservice and in-service teachers in high-needs school districts, providing professional learning to improve instruction for English learners.

The AEOL project will build upon previous experiences that advanced student-focused coaching to support English learners’ academic language acquisition.

Gimbert will lead a team of CETE associates, faculty and community experts in the design of a roadmap for school and district personnel. The work of this team will result in direct benefits to both educators and administrators in support of their service to these students.
“General education teachers benefit from professional learning and coaching in strategies, knowledge and skills to best support English learners. Administrators who understand compliance issues and evidence-based instructional strategies that support English learners can provide guidance to school personnel,” Kramer said.  

A translational research approach to solving problems with communities

CETE has extensive experience in working with and centering the voices of the communities it serves.

Many of CETE’s community partnerships are designed to center and support vulnerable and marginalized populations. They focus on developing activities that encompass student-centered, culturally responsive, assets-based approaches to enhancing social/emotional and academic achievement, as well as college and career outcomes.

This strategy will be paired with a translational research approach to ensure that the families of English learners and school/district personnel, including some with lived experience, have a meaningful influence on the project processes and resulting products.

Research and existing resources will be leveraged to support schools’ and districts’ efforts to develop or sustain a comprehensive system of supports designed to meet the unique needs of these students and their families.

group of school children sitting on the floor reading books
 Students work together with books on a group project.

Incorporating family engagement best practices in work with students, families and schools

Barbara Boone, PhD, principal investigator and director of the federally funded Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center and director of CETE’s Family Engagement program, along with her team, will leverage their extensive experience and resources to facilitate the application of best practices concerning how English learner students, their families and schools can partner for student success.

Their work demonstrates how solid family engagement practices to position families, education programs and community partners can work together to help students learn, grow and prepare for their future.  

Boone and her team will design resources that:

  • Provide regular reciprocal communication between students’ homes and schools
  • Offer information for families about the education system and supports for English learners
  • Build the capacity of educators to establish effective practices for family engagement
  • Find strategic community partners who will work collaboratively with families and schools to provide supports to students and their families

Families of English learners bring many assets to their school communities, are invested in their child’s education and are valuable partners for schools,” Boone said. “The support of families for their child’s education is associated with higher levels of academic achievement, mental and behavioral health, language proficiency, graduation rates and postsecondary attainment.”

“The engagement of families takes many forms and is supported through access to information about the education system, understanding of their child’s progress, culturally and linguistically supportive educational opportunities and access to resources within and outside of the school,” she said. “The AOEL project’s road map for families will provide both families and school personnel with the information they can use and actions they can take to work together to support the success of Ohio’s students who are learning English.”

The AOEL project will include the development of the following key products:  

  1. Ohio Vulnerable English Learner Youth Support Toolkit
    • Refugees’ and vulnerable English learners’ experience of limited and interrupted formal education and educational instability were exacerbated by the COVID crisis.

      Barriers to learning for this population include difficult enrollment processes, communication and identifying and linking to community-based resources that can increase regular attendance in school and enhance participation in activities designed to address learning loss.

      A toolkit will be designed to provide administrators with tools to meet the needs of students learning English and their families to facilitate their enhanced and sustained engagement in the school program.
  2. Road Map for Families of Pre-K-12 English Learners in Ohio Schools
    • Students learning English often experience barriers to learning that include difficult school enrollment processes, sub-optimal two-way communication with families and schools, unfamiliar education systems, circumstances that cause a student to disengage from school leading to chronic absenteeism, and complexities of linking to community-based resources to facilitate regular attendance in school and enhanced participation in activities addressing learning loss.

      This project will provide families with additional tools to assist them in overcoming barriers to accessing learning programs and advocating for their child’s education.
  3. Road Map for Advancing Ohio English Learners
    • This road map will offer educators and administrators more ready access to examples of teacher behaviors that effectively address the social and academic needs of English learners. Evidence-based practices will be modeled across grades K-12 for elementary, middle and high school instruction. Three supporting components of the road map will target teaching skills for classroom teachers, English learner specialists and administrators.
  4. A cadre of multilingual school counselors, school psychologists and other behavioral and mental health service providers
    • This activity will focus on planning and resource development designed to promote access to multilingual, culturally responsive supports; valid and reliable assessment services; and interventions for school-age students in languages other than English. Brett Zyromski, PhD, professor of counselor education and CETE faculty affiliate, will contribute to the leadership of this component of the project.

How will we determine if our approach with AOEL is successful?

Evaluating the results of problem solving through a translational research approach is central to CETE’s mission and vision. In addition to leading the application of the translational research tools and procedures in this project,  David Julian, PhD, translational research scientist and co-director of the Equity, Engagement and Evaluation program at CETE, will lead the evaluation of the AOEL project.  

In light of the comprehensiveness and complexities of the AOEL project, “The evaluation is multifaceted and will allow the project team, Ohio Department of Education and other stakeholders to understand the degree to which desired results are achieved,” Julian said. “This project is intended to produce and make available a variety of products and services in a format that is understandable and that can be accessed by students and families across Ohio.”

Julian said he will borrow from CETE’s community-centered approach and blend it with best practices in evaluation. “Students who have had significant exposure and communication experiences in a primary or home language other than English, along with their families, teachers, school administrators and other education personnel, are the primary audiences for the products and services developed through the AOEL project,” he said.

“Check-ins will be conducted with ODE representatives, the internal project team and other stakeholders regularly. In addition, most products and services will be ‘beta-tested’ to ensure compliance with project requirements,” he said. “Finally, efforts to collect more comprehensive and systematic evaluation data from families, teachers and/or administrators will be explored.”