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Case Study: Lindsay High School Transforms Learning for English Language Learners with Personalized, Competency-Based Education in California

CompetencyWorks Blog


Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on February 12, 2018.  It is the ninth blog in a series that explores the ideas in the iNACOL report, Next Generation Learning Model for English Language Learners: Promising Practices and Considerations for Teaching and Learning. Read the first post here.

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

Lindsay High School

Lindsay Unified School District
Location: Lindsay, CA
Grades Served: 9–12

Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) has a student population of 13,000. Nearly half of LUSD’s students are classified as ELL students, and over 80 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch. LUSD is also becoming a national model for personalized, competency-based education. LUSD uses a performance-based learning system which allows educators to provide early interventions and know exactly where students are in their academic journey and how they are progressing. Within LUSD, Lindsay High School (LHS) implemented a competency-based education model that focuses on advancing student mastery and student agency. Over 30 percent of students at LHS are ELL students.

Redefining success for ELL students: School leaders are building capacity for every teacher to support literacy across the curriculum. LHS supports literacy throughout the school day with independent practice time for verbal and writing skills. LHS integrates academic vocabulary and intensive personalized support for its ELL students in all content areas. English learning facilitators are lifting up vocabulary, using sentence frames and graphic organizers, and doing writing prompts. For example, math teachers ask students to write about their process in solving a math problem. Students are also encouraged to show their English learning facilitators evidence from other classes of their skills in writing. The effort to build capacity to teach literacy across the curriculum is benefiting more than the ELL students.

LHS has also added a strategy to respond to incoming new students who are behind in academic content and are at emerging and expanding English skills. LHS offers ELL students self-contained classrooms of 20 students supported by literacy specialists. Some are socially and emotionally ready for high school, while some are transfer students who need substantial help to get their foundational skills to high school level. Educators ask that these students continue working in the middle school until they’re ready to move on. LHS has the capacity to serve 40 to 45 students who need this intensive support. The minute they are showing readiness for the full academic day, they are transitioned to high school.

LHS is investing in more summer intervention, which is different in a performance-based system because educators know where every student is every day and do not allow students to fail an entire course over a semester of a year in a competency-based system. Students are able to focus on the specific measurement topics they need help with so they don’t have to retake the entire course. Some students want to come during the summer to receive additional support, or they just need a bit more time before advancing forward to the next course. For ELL students, summer intervention is an opportunity to accelerate the process of building their skills.

Assessments of and for learning: LHS focuses on making learning targets explicit and accessible. The school provides rubrics, exemplars and other models to students know when they have met the learning target. There are more ways than one for students to demonstrate their learning beyond taking standardized or written tests. Students are provided with opportunities to show their learning through performance tasks, formative assessments, project-based learning outcomes and more. LUSD uses criterion-referenced standards as reference points for scoring. Assessment results and scores are measured against a performance level.

Personalized learning approaches: LHS focuses on a performance-based learning system in which every student progresses through learning standards at their own pace, and there are clear indicators of where each student is across the various domains of knowledge, skills and dispositions toward graduation. For example, teachers know whether a student from one of LUSD’s elementary schools is entering with higher math skills but is still struggling with writing in English. They know how to identify students who need extra supports or coaching because their self-directed lifelong learner skills aren’t well-developed yet.

Additionally, educators and school leaders at LHS are more thoughtful about how they think about pace and learning trajectories. Students who need to cover more learning during the four years of high school may want to accelerate their pace of learning or take advantage of the summer to keep learning. Other students may need to work during the summer or feel that the best they can do is one academic level per year of growth. LHS has to discuss the potential that some ELL students may end up being in high school for a fifth year in order to ensure they are fully proficient. LHS’s work is uncovering challenges and opportunities in the trade-offs between pace, amount of learning per year, and the steepness of the trajectory.

Additionally, students have voice and choice and can take responsibility for allocating their time between self-directed learning spaces and educator-led instruction, depending on preferences and their own readiness. LHS tracks student learning over time so educators (as well as parents and students) can see how incoming students have performed in past trajectories and where they are currently. Educators look at the performance level of each student across the content and language domains. They identify which students are ready or have begun already to move on to high school curriculum, which students are really close to mastering the eighth-grade academic levels, and which students are still in need of help and supports to develop proficiency to meet expectations for the ninth-grade level. Educators then start to plan strategic intervention groups, taking into consideration student’s placement based on proficiency levels in English or math or both. LHS’s master schedule takes all of this information into account to prepare supports for ELL students. Educators also prepare for the fact that some students will be able to transition out of the intensive classrooms while others are going to be together most or all of the year. Some of this depends on students’ characteristics and dispositions, the strength of their life skills, and/or weaknesses in English language as they enter the general education classroom.

Educator role and capacity: Educators guide students toward resources and provide direct supports as they develop evidence of mastery and move along their own pathways. Content specialist educators work with English learning facilitators to provide ELL students opportunities within their classes to practice language acquisition skills throughout the day.

Read the Entire Series: