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Language Standards：An International Perspective，Part 2
Lucilla Lopriore, and Deborah Short
Editor's note: Part 1 of this discussion introduced standards, the reasons for their development, and the way they are developed, based on the experience of the five colloquium presenters from different parts of the world. Part 2 in this issue looks at the successes and challenges in implementing standards and assessing their impact.
When we considered in Part 1 the purposes for, and ways in which, our four language standards (Australian ESL bandscales, Ontario Curriculum, European framework, U.S. ESL standards) were constructed, we reflected on the fact that the construction of the standards varied depending on their purpose (pedagogical or administrative) as well as other factors. When we consider the implementation of the same standards, we find differences in dissemination and implementation related to a commitment to their effective implementation. A fundamental theme in Part 2 is that there is an urgent need for more research into the ways teachers react to and use standards in their classrooms.
Without any indications of whether standards affect language education positively, there is little empirical basis on which to argue for their values or benefits.
How Do Schools and Teachers Learn About Standards?
In cases where standards are developed or adopted by an education system, and where the system is committed to dissemination, teachers and schools learn about the standards through the formal education channels and in-service projects. An example is the Italian Ministry of Education's Progetto Lingue 2000 project (see ), which offers local seminars for teachers and dedicated Web pages on the education system's Web site. The education system then uses its wider resources, for example, local resource centers and self-access centers, for further dissemination of the standards, as has happened in Italy. The Progetto Lingue 2000 was established specifically to provide in-service for teachers, aiming to help them gain a clearer idea of the Common European Framework (CEF) (Council of Europe, 1998) and the rationale for its approach, and assisting them to learn how to work with the CEF descriptors.
Where standards are developed outside an education system, implementation relies on independent (e.g., professional association) dissemination strategies, and success rests ultimately on the quality of the materials and the nature of these strategies. In the United States, the ESL standards, developed by TESOL (1997), have also relied on independent sources for their dissemination, but the resources of TESOL as a large professional association have supported a strategic and energetic dissemination of the standards. TESOL has employed a number of strategies, including press releases asking states to disseminate information to districts and teachers. States with large populations of English language learners receive copies of the materials, and some, such as New Jersey, have responded by distributing copies of the ESL standards to districts with ESL or bilingual programs and requiring districts to write standards-based ESL curricula. TESOL has hosted two training-of-trainers (TOT) conferences specifically geared toward the ESL standards and for the past 6 years has offered summer academy workshops. Information about the U.S. ESL standards is located on TESOL's Web site, so members and the general public can find and read the standards. Similarly, the Center for Applied Linguistics hosts a Web page on the ESL standards, with a database of schools, districts, and states that have implemented the standards either through professional development, curriculum development, assessment design, or other means. Teachers also learn about the U.S. ESL standards through the school accreditation process undertaken by the National Study for School Evaluation, in which ESL is a content area along with the more traditional subjects of math and social studies. Thus, schools that undergo regional accreditation review are having their ESL classes evaluated along with the other instructional subject areas. As with the Australian ESL bandscales (McKay, Hudson, & Sapuppo, 1994), states have provided various opportunities for in-service education of teachers on the ESL standards. Importantly, with support of the wider association, the developers of the U.S. ESL standards have produced a number of support documents and manuals for teachers and others. (For a bibliography of TESOL standards publications, see this article at TESOL Matters On-line at )
In Australia, the ESL bandscales, which were commissioned by the Federal Government as a university research project, are available as a resource for voluntary implementation by state and other education systems across the country. Because other political changes at the time required administratively oriented standards, the ESL scales (Curriculum Corporation, 1994) were also developed. Institutional funding was provided for the implementation of the ESL scales rather than the ESL bandscales, which were pedagogically oriented (see Part 1). Over time, a push in several education systems around Australia, fueled by the support of advisory teaching staff, ESL teachers, and professional associations, have supported in-service activities around the ESL bandscales. In some cases, the ESL bandscales have been used to monitor ESL learners' progress and to make decisions on ESL teacher allocation in schools across the system.
Disseminators of each of the language standards we have discussed use professional conferences and publications to publicize the materials at international, regional, and state conferences, that is, in Italy, Australia, and the United States. These individuals give academic papers (e.g., at the international colloquium at TESOL 2000, from which this paper has emerged) and organize seminars and workshops for teachers. They write articles for professional journals and newsletters as well. The standards are also disseminated through other avenues, such as preservice and graduate teacher education courses at colleges and universities; again, these standards are used for teacher preparation or investigation by concerned and informed professionals (teacher educators) in the field.
How Do Schools and Teachers Respond to and Use Standards?
The response from schools and teachers to the different language standards and frameworks under discussion appears to vary according to the nature of the standards (pedagogical or administrative) and according to the amount of ownership and in-service support received by teachers. As we discussed in Part 1, standards written as bullet points used to meet administrative measurement purposes may not be as useful to teachers as more holistic, goal-based and "well-rounded" descriptions of ability. Teachers' reactions to features such as these, and their use of standards in the classroom, needs further investigation, as we discuss below. Schools generally find the standards useful, assisting them to plan and ensure accountability. In Italy, where syllabus planning has been organized mainly in terms of content and objectives, the CEF descriptors have provided a basis for target outcomes. There are frustrations among teachers, however, especially those who have not participated in in-service, as they try to move to new ways of planning through descriptors. Breen, Barratt-Pugh, Derewianka, House, Hudson, Lumley, and Rohl (1997) have reported on ESL teachers' reactions to and uses of a number of ESL assessment frameworks in Australia. Teachers' frustrations are evident, as are differences in the ways they use and interpret the frameworks in their teaching. On the other hand, as reported in the colloquium on which this article is based, teachers find that standards provide them with a common language with which to talk about their teaching.
There is an urgent need for research to better understand how tea
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An especially useful way to implement and evaluate language standards is through action research projects where teachers document and study their own processes of applying standards to their classrooms (e.g., Bottomley, Dalton, & Corbel, 1994). The Italian Ministry of Education, in collaboration with TESOL Italy and other associations, is currently committed to bringing about such a project, which will devise sets of testing and assessment materials geared to the levels of language proficiency described in the CEF and also investigate effective instructional practices.
How Do Standards Affect Language Education and How Do We Assess the Effects?
One example of a positive effect of language standards has been the perceived increased stature of ESL professionals in, for example, the United States and Australia, which has spurred dialogues with educators in other content areas about how best to help English language learners achieve academically. Using the ESL standards book (TESOL, 1997), many pre-K-12 teachers in the United States have been able to show colleagues what learning a second language means and what learning content through a second language requires.
However, we do not know of any research that has systematically tried to evaluate the effects of language standards. We believe it vital that this be done, particularly in the variety of contexts in which language standards are being implemented. Without any indications of whether standards affect language education positively, there is little empirical basis on which to argue for their values or benefits. Case study evidence suggests that some teachers find that standards help them conceptualize what their students should learn, enable some students to focus their studies, and help teachers integrate classroom and assessment tasks in meaningful ways (Cumming, 2001). But how do standards affect learning? How much do they really improve teaching? What benefits might they produce for society or particular groups of people? These are large, fundamental questions that our profession is only starting to ask.
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