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ELR Illustrative Example: District Partnerships

English Learner Roadmap Illustrative Example from Sanger Unified School District on District Partnerships Addressing Needs of Long Term English Learners.

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Illustrative Example Overview

Sanger Unified School District, beyond the southeast edge of Fresno, is a rural district that has been noted for its school turnaround efforts beginning in the late 1990s. With a relatively large population of English learners and students from low-income families, the district has gained recognition for developing a culture emphasizing collaboration and systemic change, and this culture is evident throughout the district’s leadership structure. In 2011, building on its successful turnaround approach, Sanger established a collaboration with Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District, located about 45 minutes west of Fresno. The Central Valley Foundation provided funding for this cross-district partnership, which emphasized fostering a culture of continuous improvement in order to improve outcomes for all students, particularly English learners. Beginning in 2014, the two districts sharpened the focus of the partnership to specifically address the needs of the districts’ long-term English learners. Although the districts are different in many ways geographically and demographically, they have found benefits from collaborating to develop and share tools for reform.

While the long-term English learner (LTEL) label was created to focus attention on an overlooked and under served population, the label has been critiqued as perpetuating a deficit perspective. However, Sanger and Firebaugh have taken a systemic approach to implementing classroom, school, and district practices that better support students’ language and content learning. Through the initiative, the districts have thought deeply about how to build on students’ assets. For example, informed by research showing that English learners in dual-language programs have better long-term language and content outcomes, Sanger has developed and launched a new dual-language program. In addition, based on internal data analysis showing that English learners who participated in the district’s preschool program were attaining English proficiency earlier, Sanger has committed to expanding its outreach to families to encourage more parents of English learners to enroll their children in preschool.

The following description of the partnership is taken from reports prepared for the Central Valley Foundation by professors Karen D. Thompson of Oregon State University and Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica of Santa Clara University, who are documenting the project for the foundation.

"Since the formation of the partnership in 2014–15, Sanger and Firebaugh have provided a wide range of professional development activities, developed a series of tools to build teachers’ capacity in addressing the needs of their districts’ LTELs, expanded course offerings for LTELs, and expanded parent education offerings. Teachers, coaches, and administrators from Sanger and Firebaugh have participated in the following professional development during the LTEL Partnership Project: Academic Discourse, Understanding Language Argumentation Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Kagan, Integrated English Language Development (ELD), Designated ELD and ELITE trainings at the high school, middle school, and elementary levels. The partnership has made a conscious effort to include teachers across content areas in LTEL trainings rather than focusing on English language arts (ELA) and ELD teachers alone. In the first two years of the partnership, science, social studies, ELA, and ELD teachers, including teachers from alternative school sites, participated in the Academic Discourse and Integrated ELD trainings. In the third year of the partnership, math teachers participated in the Academic Discourse training and Integrated ELD trainings."

Principles, Elements, and Priorities Addressed

Principle Two: Intellectual Quality of Instruction and Meaningful Access

English learners engage in intellectually rich, developmentally appropriate learning experiences that foster high levels of English proficiency. These experiences integrate language development, literacy, and content learning as well as provide access for comprehension and participation through native language instruction and scaffolding. English learners have meaningful access to a full standards-based and relevant curriculum and the opportunity to develop proficiency in English and other languages.

Element 2A: Integrated and Designated ELD

Language development occurs in and through subject matter learning and is integrated across the curriculum, including integrated ELD and designated ELD (per the English Language Arts (ELA)/ELD Framework).

Principle Three: System Conditions that Support Effectiveness

Each level of the school system (state, county, district, school, pre-school) has leaders and educators who are knowledgeable of and responsive to the strengths and needs of English learners and their communities and who utilize valid assessment and other data systems that inform instruction and continuous improvement. Each level of the school system provides resources and tiered support to ensure strong programs and build the capacity of teachers and staff to leverage the strengths and meet the needs of English learners.

Element 3A: Leadership

Leaders establish clear goals and commitments to English Learner (EL) access, growth toward English proficiency, and academic engagement and achievement; and maintain a systemic focus—beyond compliance via the EL Master Plan and English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) and District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) regulations—on continuous improvement and progress toward these goals.

Element 3B: Adequate Resources

The school system invests adequate resources to support the conditions required to address EL needs.

Element 3C: Assessments

A system of culturally and linguistically valid and reliable assessment supports instruction, continuous improvement, and accountability for attainment of English proficiency, biliteracy, and academic achievement.

Element 3D: Capacity Building

Capacity building occurs at all levels of the system, including leadership development to understand and address the needs of English learners, professional development and collaboration time for teachers, and robust efforts to address the teaching shortage and build a recruitment and development pipeline of educators skilled in addressing the needs of English learners, including bilingual teachers.

Local Control and Accountability (LCAP) Priority One: Basic (Conditions of Learning)
  • Rate of teacher misassignment as relates to equity, professional learning, resource alignment, and teachers.
  • Student access to standards-aligned instructional materials as relates to curriculum, instruction, and resource alignment.
  • Facilities in good repair as relates to culture and climate and resource alignment.
LCAP Priority Two: State Standards (Conditions of Learning)
  • Implementation of academic content and performance standards adopted by the state board for all pupils, including English learners as relates to assessment, curriculum, equity, instruction, and professional learning.
LCAP Priority Three: Parental Involvement (Engagement)
  • Efforts to seek parent input in decision making and promotion of parent participation in programs for unduplicated pupils and special need subgroups as relates to culture and climate, equity, and family and community.
LCAP Priority Four: Pupil Achievement (Pupil Outcomes)
  • Performance on standardized tests, score on Academic Performance Index, share of pupils that are college and career ready, share of English learners that become English proficient, English learner reclassification rate, share of pupils that pass Advanced Placement exams with three or higher and share of pupils determined prepared for college by the Early Assessment Program as relates to assessment, curriculum, equity, and instruction.
LCAP Priority Five: Pupil Engagement (Engagement)
  • School attendance rates, chronic absenteeism rates, middle school dropout rates, high school dropout rates, and high school graduations rates as relates to culture and climate, equity, and family and community.
LCAP Priority Six: School Climate (Engagement)
  • Pupil suspension rates, pupil expulsion rates, and other local measures including surveys of pupils, parents, and teachers on the sense of safety and school connectedness as relates to culture and climate, equity, and family and community.
LCAP Priority Seven: Course Access (Conditions of Learning)
  • Pupil enrollment in a broad course of study that includes all of the subject areas described in Education Code (EC) section 51210 and subdivisions (a) to (i), inclusive, of EC section 51220, as applicable, as relates to curriculum, equity, and professional learning.
LCAP Priority Eight: Other Pupil Outcomes (Pupil Outcomes)
  • Pupil outcomes in the subject areas described in EC Section 51210 and subdivisions (a) to (i), inclusive, of EC Section 51220, as applicable as relates to curriculum, equity, and professional learning.

Evidence of Effectiveness

The Characteristics of Examples Web Page includes information on the criteria used to evaluate illustrative example submissions.

Standard 1 (supported by an existing research basis)

There is little systematic research that speaks to the efficacy of cross-district collaboration, although there is a growing knowledge base on teacher professional collaboration and on research practice-partnerships. Sanger’s approach to reform that supports its teacher professional learning culture and a focus on student learning has been well-documented.

Standard 2 (local metrics of system implementation and adult learning outcomes)

In the context of Sanger’s collaborative district culture, school leaders formed professional learning communities (PLCs) that observed and examined ELD practices, leading to the conclusion that “teachers needed to ask questions that would provoke thoughtful conversation. They observed that ELD was disconnected from core classroom instruction, so their work included ways of linking the two, including the use of ELD time to introduce vocabulary and skills in upcoming core lessons” (David and Talbert, 2013, p. 20). The district regularly collects and analyzes data from such PLCs.

Standard 2a (local metrics of student learning supports and processes)

Student work has always guided much of the work of teacher PLCs. More recently, through the partnership, Sanger and Firebaugh teachers have gathered samples of student collaborative conversations as an indicator of student engagement and learning, using the free online MOOCs from Stanford’s Understanding Language that focuses on collaborative conversations and argumentation.

Standard 3 (student learning outcomes)

Reclassification rates for long-term English learners have increased during the course of the partnership. Both districts also have maintained or improved their district graduation rates for the “Ever-EL” category of students to 93 percent in 2015, compared to a statewide average of 70 percent; the combined graduation rate for “Ever-EL” students for 2016 was 97 percent, compared to 72 percent statewide. During a recent five-year period, both districts also improved the rate at which students entering kindergarten attain English proficient status on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT). For example, during the interval between 2010 and 2014, the time it took for 50 percent of the cohort of students to attain English proficiency was reduced from four and a half years to three years.


Turning Around a High-poverty District: Learning from Sanger External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
This publication, by Jane L. David and Joan E. Talbert, provides information on Sanger’s path to continuous improvement and the shifts that took place in this district to affect change.

Interim Report on the Sanger-Firebaugh Long-Term English Learner Partnership Project, 2017 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
This report, by Karen Thompson of Oregon State University and Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica of Santa Clara University, provides information on the results of the Sanger and Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School Districts partnership.

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Last Reviewed: Tuesday, February 27, 2018
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