WIA Community Conversations Summary - English Language Acquisition

WIA Community Conversations Summary

English Language Acquisition

WIA Community Conversations | Other WIA Community Conversations Summaries

English Language Acquisition Questions

  • What are your successes in helping adults acquire English language skills?
  • How can WIA help English Language Learners be successful in achieving a high school credential or entering post-secondary education and training or employment?
  • What are the challenges you face? What are some possible solutions to those challenges?
  • How might WIA reauthorization improve services to adults learning English?


 “What are your successes in helping acquire adults acquire English language skills?”

  • Ability to meet the needs of learners at all levels from pre-literacy through advanced in dedicated classes for each level
  • Courses that combine face-to-face and online instruction
  • Programs that offer supports to learners including career counseling, orientation, academic advising, and assistance for scholarship funding, as well as English language instruction
  • Programs that are housed in neighborhood schools, serve both parents and children, and provide transportation and childcare services
  • States that use leadership funds in programs that help adult English language learners transition from ESL to academic course or job preparation
  • Programs that involve collaboration and co-planning both between ESL and content instructors within the programs and between organizations providing services to the English language learners.
  • Program where skilled, trained volunteers assist the instructors, or as in libraries, where they meet the needs of newly arrived learners who are not yet enrolled in WIA-funded course.
  •  Programs where EL/Civics instruction helps learners improve English language skills while learning the civics content  

WIA and Transitions

“How can WIA help English language learners be successful in achieving a high school credential or entering post-secondary education or employment and training?”

  • Learning English takes time – fund students for longer periods of time
  • Consider funding for programs for educational pathways that provide content in native languages while also providing English language instruction.
  • Continue to fund programs that couple higher language English language skills classes with vocation training, such as the IBEST
  • Allow programs to assess fees for tuition and books
  • Increase funding for programs that provide high school diplomas to adult learners
  • Increase funding for programs that are bridges – that help learners to transfer to VESL and other certificate bearing programs; fund the development of exit level tests that will demonstrate that English language learners are ready to access these credit
    bearing/certificate classes
  • Find ways to encourage agencies to work together to ensure that services offered are appropriate and will benefit the students.
  • Provide funding to make computers and computerized instruction available to learners


 “What are challenges you face?”

  • Time: There is minimal time for learners to practice English in a four hours a day, or four hours a week class; students don’t have ways to practice English outside of school, and they don’t speak English in their communities; students can’t attend classes
    as much as they need to due to problems with support services – childcare and transportation, for example; and the open entry/ open exit form and mindset of many programs limits hours;
  • Cultural issues for English language learners: These may prevent them from taking responsibility for their own learning; for example, to be able to access training outside the classroom, to find opportunities to use English in the communities, and so on.
  • Instructional quality: Due to budget cuts the classes may be taught by volunteers – who are well meaning but may have limited hours to prepare and receive professional development, and may not know the field well; it is hard to recruit qualified teachers
    due to low salaries.
  • Multilevel classes: Particularly in smaller programs and in rural areas, classes may be multilevel – by level of English of learners, but also by purpose for being in programs; GED native speakers maybe in same classroom with literacy-level English learners
  • The emphasis on standardized testing particularly at beginning levels where it is hard to show learner progress: Instruction may be skewed to what is being assessed, not what is needed (e.g., reading is assessed, but learners want to focus on oral skills;
    pre-testing is may be problematic for learners at the basic level, but programs must pre-test to show gain)
  • Status of  teachers: usually part time, not paid for professional development (when it is available to them); teachers are not viewed the same by society so cannot access free texts and other “perks” given K12 teachers

Other Suggestions

“How might WIA reauthorization improve services to adults learning English?”

  • Expand support for learners both at very beginning and at highest level of English proficiency: For beginning learners this is native language literacy classes that then provide a link to an ESL class the learner can enroll in when ready; at the higher
    levels this is classes that go beyond the highest NRS levels to bridge to academic classes or to work preparation. Many English language learners are highly trained professionals, use funds to help these learners verify certificates and training received in
    the home country so they can access jobs here in the United States commensurate with their skills and training. Be creative – take a model like Fresh Start programs and fund adult basic education/ESL for half a day with half a day work experience.
  • Set aside funds in WIA for distance learning – learners need to know how to access this and much job training is offered online; also use funds to provide computers and computer training to those who need it
  • Use WIA funds for transportation, counseling, and childcare and other support services to increase likelihood of persistence and to help learners navigate the system from adult basic education English classes to credit-bearing/certificate classes
  • Find ways other than level gains on the NRS to measure learner progress including, for example, formative assessments
  • Keep family literacy on the national agenda, especially for parents with very basic English language ability; continue to fund programs that have proven results; continue to fund literacy center-based programs as many learners at beginning levels do not
    have access to computers or find it difficult to work online at home with small children requiring their attention
  • Broaden goals for learners to include greater involvement in community and in children’s education
  • Business: Allow certificates from education classes attesting to learner’s ability to read and understand product material as proxy for high school diplomas and other certificate requirements for employment; if business makes use of immigrant labor, it
    should pay a separate tax to support literacy education for these workers
  • Fund ongoing support for learners who stop in and stop out through mentors and coaches.
  • Provide teachers with paid time to participate in professional development
  • Continue to fund agencies to provide technical assistance nationally, such as the CAELA Network, STAR; AALPD, and others
  • Examine teaching practices that show success in preparing students for success
  • Draw on frameworks such as Equipped for the Future to guide instruction, along with principles of Universal Design
  • Focus on the fact that learners need to have a job that gives them satisfaction and pays a living wage, and they need to be educated and trained to get and keep these jobs.