$2.2M to fund English learning development for teachers

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

gisela-ernst-slavit-headVANCOUVER, Wash. – Washington State University has won a five-year, $2.2 million grant to increase the number of certified K-8 teachers with bilingual and English learners (EL) endorsements and to provide professional development to improve EL instruction.

One of the main goals is to build on the strengths and talents of experienced paraprofessionals. The project will provide full scholarships to a minimum of 52 paraprofessionals to complete their bachelor’s degrees in education with EL endorsements. It is anticipated that at least 30 percent will be bilingual.

Other goals of the project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, will be to improve parental, family and community engagement and build resources for local outreach and national replication.

EL teacher shortage

None of the 295 school districts in Washington had their ELs meet all reading or math standards during the 2013-14 school year, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. ELs had much lower pass rates in reading than the student population at large, said EL professor Gisela Ernst-Slavit from the College of Education at WSU Vancouver.

Gisela Ernst-Slavit

“Washington schools are facing a crisis right now,” said Ernst-Slavit, who will work on the grant project with Judy Morrison, Yuliya Ardasheva and Sarah Newcomer at WSU Tri-cities and Kira Carbonneau at WSU Pullman.

The simple solution is to increase the quantity of EL teachers. But Washington – like most states – is experiencing an overall teacher shortage, especially in the central and southwestern parts of the state.

“As a result, what we see are schools using stop-gap measures to fill voids,” Ernst-Slavit said. “That includes emergency certifications and using substitute teachers instead of full-time teachers, which does a disservice to both teacher quality and student learning. Ultimately, student achievement suffers.”

Tri-Cities, Vancouver districts partner

Nowhere is this more apparent than around the Tri-Cities. While the state average of EL students per district is 10.5 percent, Pasco, for example, has 52 percent.

Pasco schools – along with those from Evergreen, Grandview, Kennewick, Prosser and Richland – are partner districts in the project, which is called Equity for Language Learners-Improving Practices and Acquisition of Culturally-Responsive Teaching (ELL-IMPACT).

“Collaboration between mentor teachers and our teacher education programs is at the core of this project,” said Ernst-Slavit, citing the WSU researchers’ specialized knowledge, expertise, cultural backgrounds and research perspective. “This is the kind of collaboration that places the college in a unique position to address the needs of our state by providing access and opportunity to our diverse communities.”


Gisela Ernst-Slavit, WSU Vancouver College of Education, 360-546-9659, gernst@wsu.edu