Harford Foundation’s Sara Sneed Keeps Focus on Parent, Community and Student Engagement in Legislative Work Group on English Language Learners

Connecticut currently leads the nation with the largest achievement gap between English Language Learners (ELL) and their English-speaking peers, despite the abundance of time, energy and resources have been devoted to reducing the wide disparities in academic achievement between low income students and their middle class and more affluent peers. In response to this challenge, Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey recently created the English Language Acquisition and Educational Equity Work Group charged with helping the state legislature to understand the needs of Connecticut’s English Language Learners and developing recommendation to improve EL students’ outcomes. The Speaker invited Sara Sneed, the Hartford Foundation’s director of educational investments, to be a member of this Work Group.

“In order to be successful, schools simply can’t function alone,” said Sneed. “Schools, communities and families must work together.  This certainly applies to the challenges our state and communities face, in support of English Language Learners. The state, local school districts, families, students, and community partners must work together to support ALL children. While a great deal of work remains, if enacted, these recommendations represent a positive starting point to for what our state and communities must work on to achieve greater equity and address the needs of English Learners.”

Among Sneed’s contributions were recommendations to:

  • Allow for an increase in the current period of bilingual instruction from 30 months to 60 months (5 academic years).
  • Allow students who are English Language Learners to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam in their native language in order to more effectively ascertain content knowledge.
  • Ensure that school districts are providing families with clear guidance and information about standardized tests to be performed each year and the accommodations that can be made for students’ requiring content to be offered in other than English.
  • Recognize the importance of families and caregivers’ roles in the English language acquisition process. Sneed suggested that the Department of Education provide school districts with more information about research-based practices on how to best involve families in the language acquisition process.
  • Ensure that school districts have professional development plans with an emphasis on language development and culturally responsive instruction, learner-centered methodologies, differentiated instruction, and community-based approaches that support an inclusive learning environment.
  • Review and structure current investments, such as the Commissioner’s Network and Alliance Districts funding, so that English Learner needs are clearly included in funding priorities.
  • Conduct a program and funding audit of the efficacy and adequacy of schools’ current EL programming. This process should include student and family input.

The Foundation recently provided a $100,000 grant that helped to leverage a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) to provide 2,000 of Hartford’s young English learners and their families with new resources and assistance to positively impact their literacy and academic outcomes. The Literacy and Academic Success for English Learners through Science (LASErS) program provides teachers and instructional coaches with high-quality professional development and offers families resources and educational events, to leverage formal and informal science learning as a vehicle to support young English learners’ literacy, language, and academic success. The Foundation’s grant expands the scope of this project to include young English learners and their families in community-based pre-K settings and supports a portion of the personnel cost for the project’s Family Engagement Specialist.

The Foundation also offered testimony before the legislature’s Education Committee in support of a bill to increase the hours of bilingual education available to ELLs as one key strategy to increase equitable outcomes for all children.

For a copy of the complete report from the English Language Learners and Educational Equity Work Group, click here (PDF).