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Summary of Online Discussion on Content Standards in Adult ESL

Below is a summary of an electronic discussion that took place on the Adult English Language discussion list, May 21-25, 2007. The discussion list is part of the National Institute for Literacy's Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) and is moderated by staff at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

For information about subscribing to the adult English language discussion list or to read current and past postings, go to

To read background information about content standards in adult ESL discussion, click here.

To read about the guest facilitators, Sarah Young and Kirsten Schaetzel, click here.

If you wish to read or reread the individual postings from this discussion you can access them from the National Institute for Literacy’s Web site at and looking at the “Read Current Posted Messages” section.  From there you can search by  date, thread, subject, or author.  Most of the postings are included--with some other topics-- between posting numbers 1310 and 1403. 

The note below from guest facilitator Sarah Young summarizes main topics of the discussion:

Hello all,

The recent discussions about content standards development,
implementation, and training have been beneficial in the variety of
ideas, experiences, and strategies that have been shared. So far we've
heard from practitioners and professional development staff in Arizona,
Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and
Virginia (I apologize if I've left anyone out). Each state has undergone
a different process for development and implementation; some states have
based their standards on Equipped for the Future or CASAS while others
have taken a more state-specific approach. However, I've noticed some
commonalities in our discussions so far:

- Teacher and administrator buy-in is crucial. As John Warrior of Tulsa
Community College pointed out, "benchmarks should be clear and easy to
understand. They should not be something in "teacherese" that sounds
good on paper and looks good in a syllabus, but cannot be applied to
classroom instruction... we structured our benchmarks so that there were
a reasonable number to teach and assess each semester. Finally, we tried
to set them up so that new adjunct faculty members could use them with
the minimum amount of in-service train." In order to get staff buy-in,
content standards must be a quality product, easy to use and understand,
and directly applicable to classroom instruction and assessment.

- Student buy-in is also essential. There have been several
recommendations for having student input in the development process and
then posting the standards in the classroom, in order to encourage
student ownership of their own learning and to provide them with a
roadmap as to where they have come and where they are going. Teachers
can also color-code their lesson plans in some way so that a quick
glance can show if a balance of standards coverage has been achieved
(i.e, speaking standards/benchmarks are being covered most of the time
while writing standards/benchmarks are rarely addressed). Has anyone
tried developing a needs assessment or student self-assessment based on
content standards?

- Content standards must provide "added value" to a teacher's practice.
In the professional development that Andy Nash does with states working
with standards, she demonstrates how standards-based lessons are an
improvement over lessons based solely on other instructional materials
(e.g., textbooks). In the implementation and training materials that
states have provided to teachers, how has this added value been

- Professional development materials and events are needed to support
teacher and administrator use of content standards. Texas will be
distributing an implementation guide, CD, and collection of
standards-based lesson plans to practitioners at the end of June (these
will also be available at the TCALL Web site at

Beyond initial training and orientation, there is a need for both ongoing professional
development and follow-up for trained teachers and for a mechanism to
ensure that new teachers are trained on the content standards after the
initial roll-out is complete. Karen Gianninoto shared Maryland's plan
for addressing these needs, by creating a professional development plan
that is sustained over time and provides practitioners opportunities to
practice and reflect on new standards-based strategies. It will be
interesting to hear more about how Maryland's online course that is
currently being designed will incorporate those perspectives.


Lynda Terrill
Adult English Language Learners electronic discussion list moderator
July 2007