In Tennessee we have more than 35 language groups who come from more than 50 countries. Tennessee public schools have nearly 23,000 English Language Learners. For these students, English is not the first language they learned to speak. How is our state ensuring that they will have an equal chance at receiving a great education? 

I was first exposed to the world of English Language Learners (ELL) through a girl named Marta. My boyfriend’s family adopted Marta from Ethiopia when she was 13 years old. I saw from the beginning this native English speaking family doing everything in their power to help Marta learn English. Marta attends my alma mater, Pope John Paul II High School, where she is taught by Mrs. Adrienne Parks and some of the best educators in the state. Marta has many resources ensuring her success in education, but what about our other ELLs throughout the state?

This fall the Tennessee Department of Education is introducing the newest initiative with hope for greater student success, Response to Intervention 2 (RTI2). One way our state is ensuring success for ELLs is including them in the RTI2 plan. Read the full initiative here.

Although I do believe Tennessee’s RTI2 initiative is on the right track there is always room for improvement. The World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA), housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, seeks to advance academic language development and academic achievement for linguistically diverse students. The WIDA Consortium has provided a Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Approach to RTI2. Although this was not created specifically for Tennessee and our students, there are recommendations in the framework that could benefit ELLs in in Tennessee’s public schools. The WIDA Consortium provides support to state educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) as they develop more culturally and linguistically responsive educational systems. WIDA indicates five essential parts to successfully implementing a competent RTI2  plan, but I believe that one of the parts, “Factors that May Impact ELLs’ Academic Progress, Linguistic Development and Response to Instruction and Intervention,” is critical for our state to implement into the Tennessee RTI2 initiative:

There are seven factors that may influence ELLs’ linguistic and academic development:

  1. Learning Environment Factors
  2. Academic Achievement and Instructional Factors
  3. Oral Language and Literacy Factors
  4. Personal and Family Factors
  5. Physical and Psychological Factors
  6. Previous Schooling Factors
  7. Cross Cultural Factors

Gathering the information from the seven factors listed above is essential to the success of RTI2 for ELLs. I encourage everyone to read the complete Tennessee’s RTI2 Initiative and to read WIDA’s report.