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Aurora Institute

Case Study: Westminster Schools Advances Learning for English Language Learners Through Personalized, Competency-Based Learning in Colorado

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Natalie Truong

Issues: Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction, Learn Lessons from the Field


The following case study represents promising practices in the field using personalized, competency-based learning specifically for ELL students. Each case study in this blog series is considered promising in that they incorporate many of the core principles for next generation learning to support ELL student success. All case studies are examples of programs taking a longer view and a more holistic approach to student outcomes over time – defining the goal as helping students to achieve at high levels over the course of their schooling – in addition to becoming English-proficient.

Each case study addresses the core principles for next generation learning for ELL students that were discussed in previous blog posts:

  • Redefining success for ELL students
  • Assessments of and for learning
  • Personalized learning approaches
  • Building educator role and capacity

Westminster Public Schools

Location: Westminster, CO
Grades Served: PK–12

Westminster Public Schools created competency-based and personalized learning environments that promote biliteracy and content mastery for ELL students. The Westminster district has about 10,000 students of which 18% are white, 82% are children of color (Hispanic, African-American, and Native American students). Westminster has the second highest percentage of English learners in the state with 45% of learners in the English language development program. Besides English, Spanish is the other dominant language with an additional 31 languages represented in the district.

Westminster is an English immersion district with one elementary school offering a transitional Spanish-English bilingual track. Teachers build skills to provide instruction to students as they acquire English and master content standards as part of the constant attention to building their capacity to meet the needs of their learners.

Redefining success for ELL students: Westminster schools combine WIDA standards for language acquisition, Colorado proficiency standards, and Common Core into a framework for use by teachers. For example, social studies teachers with 50% of the class ELD are using the WIDA standards along with the content standards in planning their units. They build vocabulary support and scaffolding into the instructional materials and assessments.

Assessments of and for learning: Assessments at Westminster schools are based on capturing students’ strengths and weaknesses as they move toward their learning targets. Students receive multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery on their learning targets.

Personalized learning approaches: Westminster schools group students together based on proficiency in each subject and language development levels and students are expected to know what they need to master to move up a level. Students are expected to be able to read and interpret their learning scores and subject-matter rubrics and determine their learning progressions. Teachers deliver personalized instruction targeted to where students are, rather than to the middle. Teachers are aware of every learner and where they are in their learning. They can group learners as needed so that teachers are not trying to respond to as much variance in the classroom as before.

Educator role and capacity: Educators are trained on personalized learning strategies and work together to develop and implement a bilingual curriculum that uses personalized learning approaches for ELL students. ELL educators work with content educators to develop personalized learning plans for ELL students that incorporate content standards and biliteracy development. Students’ personalized learning plans are based on their language development levels, content levels and their learning preferences. Students are provided with voice and choice in co-building their units of study and learning goals, including reaching mastery in content and biliteracy objectives. Students’ personalized learning plans and performance data guide how educators provide each student with formative assessments. Educators also receive personalized learning plans through consideration of an educator’s strengths and weaknesses. The personalized learning plan will include professional development modules that address, among many competencies, some of the following: developing proficiency scales, instructional progression, student learning progression, developing success criteria and unit planning. At Westminster Public Schools, educators share their learning with each other and have ongoing conversations about student data. Educators frequently participate in walk-throughs, or class observations, across schools. Best practices and common challenges are highlighted and reflected upon during these professional learning observations.

This is the tenth blog post in a series that explores how personalized, competency-based education can advance learning for English Language Learners from iNACOL’s report, Next Generation Learning Models for English Language Learners: Promising Practices and Considerations for Teaching and Learning. The next post will explore Cesar Chavez Multicultural Learning Center’s personalized learning model for ELL students.

Follow this blog series for key insights on promising practices for ELL students:

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