Special Interest Groups

Bilingual/ESL Middle School

The 2013 NJEA Conference: Over But Not Forgotten

By Noreen Drucker

This year’s  NJEA Convention, November 7th and 8th,  in Atlantic City was a resounding success. There was a plethora of professional development sessions, not only for teachers, but for support staff, secretaries, and custodians as well. The High Tech Hall was open both days and offered hands-on programs by Verizon ( Thinkfinity),  Teq Connected Classroom  and others. Experts in the areas of retirement, health  benefits, and grant writing were available to share their knowledge and experience. Affiliate groups, including our own NJTESOL/NJBE, were represented in the Exhibit Hall. Political issues, advocacy, and social networking were among the issues being discussed there as well. The vendors were there as were individuals selling handmade jewelry, scarves, and of course, the ever present T-shirt. All in all, there was something for everybody.

This year my proposal was accepted and I was honored to have the opportunity to present to my colleagues from all over the state. I was very pleased to see so many members of the NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board, as well as members of NJTESOL/NJBE making presentations based on issues and concerns of English Language Learners. There were at least 7 different workshops for ELLs and each of them was well attended.

I noticed that more than half of those attending these presentations were not ESL teachers. They were classroom teachers, pre- school teachers, and special subject teachers. There were fine arts teachers and special education teachers in my session, “How to Help ELLs in My Class.”  After the presentation, many of them came up to me and said that the strategies they learned would work for all their students and they could easily incorporate them into their teaching.

On Thursday morning, Judie Haynes and Karen Nemeth talked about the use of the Internet and social networking to teach ELLs.  In the afternoon, Judy was at the podium once again: her workshop reached capacity early and the session was closed. Her topic “Five Strategies for Teaching Beginning ELLs in the Content Areas” was very well received, as many classroom teachers are struggling for strategies  to reach the beginning ELLs.

Michelle Land’s presentation, ”Engaging   ELLs  Holistically” drew a crowd of ESL teachers, classroom teachers, and support staff. Based on educational research and world experiences, this interactive workshop served to create an awareness of ELLs and the obstacles they face on a daily basis.

High school teachers benefitted from Marilyn Pongracz’s presentation “Introducing Intermediate ELLs to Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Research.”  Jory Samkoff made two presentations. In the first one she co-presented with Kevin A. La Mastra. The presentation  dealt with Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s “ Culture Circle,” an activity to build critical literacy. Later in the day,  Jory presented on “Muslim, Arabic-Speaking Students in the American Classroom.”

There was a 5k run on Friday morning and the weather cooperated - cold but sunny and no rain. Hospitality suites offered food, laughter, and a time to relax between sessions. The conference was well organized, informative, and a lot of fun.

Please consider joining us at the NJEA Conference next year. Our field is now well represented and  there is so much to learn. Perhaps you will consider sending in a proposal to share your knowledge and expertise. If not, we still hope you will come and see us next year.

Noreen Drucker is the SIG Representative for Middle School ESL/Bilingual.


Bilingual Elementary 1 - 8

Testing Challenges: Will They Change the Workforce

By Gregory Romero

Gregory Romero

Education reform is continuing nonstop even as you read this article. It is impacting everything that we do as educators and it is impacting our schools and districts like nothing has since the Kennedy era and Race to the Moon or a Nation at Risk. With the introduction of the Common Core Standards, new assessments through PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers,)  and SGOs (Student Growth Objectives,) teachers are working feverishly to make sure that they incorporate the standards into their lessons and that the students are learning the information they need to prepare to take the PARCC assessments when they arrive next year.

Preparing students is not an easy endeavor. In order for the students to do well on the new PARCC assessments, they will not only need to know content information and be able to read and write using informational text, but they will need to be able to take an assessment on line using their keyboarding skills. This has placed an added burden on districts to reintroduce keyboarding to all of their students and to upgrade the technology that they currently have in place. Teachers are worried about student performance on the PARCC and the impact the performance will have on their own evaluations; student performance in tested grades makes up 35% of a teacher’s evaluation.

The 2013-2014 school year saw the introduction of the SGO,  the Student Growth Objective. SGOs, Specific, Measurable, Ambitious/Achievable, Relevant, and Time Related goals, that teachers create based on a measure of their students’ learning; they will count as 15% of the teacher’s evaluation. This year, all teachers have an SGO versus an SGP (Student Growth Percentile;) next year, tested grade teachers will have an SGP versus the SGO. The SGOs caused NJ teachers some worries as they scrambled to create these objectives in September and October.

Teachers were not sure as to how they would be writing the objective or how to calculate the amount of students that would improve or increase their scores; how do you determine a target score and what percent of students will attain the target score?  NJ ACHIEVE gave information that teachers and districts used as guidelines for preparing the SGO, but a variety of interpretations and changes from the DOE made the process difficult. This year, teachers will have an opportunity to revise their SGOs in February based on the benchmark testing they will have done since the start of the SGO process in October; benchmarking will ensure that SGOs are met and that students are on track with their own learning needs. Tied into the SGOs/SGPs and evaluations are Professional Development Plans which will be developed by teachers in conjunction with their supervisors and school administrators. These new PDPs will replace the PGPs from yesteryear. They will be partially based on the results of the SGOs as well as evaluation results and individualized to the needs of the teacher.

Olsen and Anderson (2007) found that given time, new teachers would be able to adjust and grow professionally as teachers learning to like their jobs and their students so that they remained in education despite everything thrown at them: “…but-given time, additional roles, and varied professional development opportunities-would find new challenges and satisfaction without having to leave the classroom” (Olsen & Anderson, 2007, p. 20). This is true for all of [those] currently working in education who may feel slightly overwhelmed by the tide of change and who may considering looking for another field of employment; remember, we are strong enough to meet the challenges that education is facing especially, if we remember that change, when done correctly, can be beneficial to our students


Olsen, B., & Anderson, L. (2007). Courses of action: A qualitative investigation into urban teacher retention and career development. Urban Education, 4,5–29. Retrieved February 26, 2009, from Education: A SAGE Full-Text Collection database.

Gregory Romero, Bilingual Elementary 1-8 Representative

Early Childhood

Lessons Learned and to be Learned

By Monica Schnee

The last two months have been filled with new experiences and lessons. Since this year brings about changes and modifications, here are some of the things that I have learned and will continue to learn from:



Monica Schnee is the Early Childhood Special Interest Group Representative.


ESL Secondary

ELLs, the PARCC Exam, and High School Graduation
By Marcella Garavaglia

The High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) will be eliminated and some schools and districts will begin field testing the new tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in the spring of 2014. The PARCC test aligns to the national Common Core State Standards.

The administration windows for the PARCC Field Test are from March 24th to April 11th for the Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) and May 5th to June 6th for the End-of-Year Assessment (EOY). Although the PARCC test will be computerized in the future, the field test will include schools which will administer either paper-based or computer-based tests. The field test will include computer-based accessibility features and embedded accommodations for all students, students with disabilities, and English learners.

English learners will receive the following accommodations on the PARCC Field Test: extended time, general administration directions clarified in the student’s native language, general administration directions read and repeated as needed in the student’s native language, scribing or speech-to-text responses dictated for the mathematics assessments in English, and a word to word dictionary (English/native language). For more information about accommodations for English learners reference Section 4 (pages 36-40) of the PARCC Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual.

What does this mean for ELL graduation rates? Although state graduation requirements include passing a state test, multiple sources have published Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s confirmation that students currently (2013-2014) in grades 8, 9 and 10 will not be required to pass new high school tests to graduate during the phase-in period of the PARCC. Scores will however be included on students’ transcripts. Sign up for the NJDOE and PAR CC mailing lists to stay informed about the PARCC test and graduation requirements.

Helpful Links:

PARCC – For Educators

PARCC - Accessibility Accommodations and Fairness

PARCC Parent Brochures for English Learners are available in English and Spanish


Press of Atlantic City: New state high school tests to be phased in


Marcella Garavaglia, ESL Secondary SIG Representative, ESL teacher, Freehold Regional High School District, marcellagaravaglia@njtesol-njbe.org


Higher Education

A Higher Education Workshop Strand at the 2014 Spring Conference

By Howard Pomann

This year, within our annual Spring Conference, there will be a Higher Education Workshop Strand on Wednesday, May 28th.   Presentations will highlight a broad range of innovations in the areas of academic writing and reading, pronunciation, tutoring centers, on-line resources, social media, and use of a variety of technologies to enhance language skills.  

Additionally, there will be a Higher Education SIG meeting in which we will discuss ways to increase ESL program and college completion. These ways include obtaining general education foreign language credit for advanced courses, increasing acceleration, earning ESL-General Studies Certificates and other certificates of achievement, as well as other strategies that colleges have implemented state-wide and nationally.  

We hope higher education faculty also plan to attend Thursday, May 29th, the second day of the conference, when we will have numerous presentations related to language acquisition, integration of academic English, implementation of common core initiatives, and technology, as well as further opportunity to speak with publishers and see their new books and related software.  All conference participants are encouraged to attend the higher education workshops.

I have always found that the annual Spring Conference is an excellent opportunity for faculty from higher education to meet and work with our K-12 and adult education colleagues, to share our common methodologies, concerns and initiatives.  As the Higher SIG representative, I have been gaining a greater understanding of the changes to the K-12 curricula and to teacher evaluation, along with other issues that are impacting K-12 students and faculty.  Many of these will have an impact on higher education programs in the near future.  I also look forward to continuing the conversation on how we can assist our students through the difficult transition from secondary to higher education.

I hope to see you at the conference.

Howard Pomann is the Director of the Institute for Intensive English, Union County College (pomann@ucc.edu, 908-965-6030)


Special Education

The Truth About Social Skills: Practice Makes Perfect

By Sharon A. Hollander

For most people, the skills needed for social interaction develop naturally. Few will be able to recall how they learned to give a compliment or read the expression on a friend’s face. However, for children with disabilities, the process is not so effortless. Effective communication is critical for both individual interactions and long-term relationships. Accordingly, language differences and disorders can hinder even the best social efforts.

CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) students, particularly those with disabilities, often have difficulty with the unwritten and ever expanding list of social behaviors needed to thrive in the classroom and community. Talk about the hidden curriculum. Of course, parents and professionals want to help children with special needs, but how?

It has been said that there are few things in the field of Psychology that everyone agrees on, but one is that practice really does make perfect. Repetition and rehearsal are required to develop any skill.  Children need to practice social skills with many people, across different settings, and with varied types of support.

Socialization is complex, but, thankfully, it also has teachable rules and rituals. Supports, like scripts, picture cues, and role play, may seem unnatural, at first, but they get the job done. Video and real life modeling are also very valuable. In my clinical practice, when parents express concern about their child’s behavior at an upcoming event, like a wedding or birthday party, I direct them to YouTube, where there are endless opportunities to view (carefully chosen) videos of appropriate behavior on different occasions. Specially designed social skills DVDs are also available.

Another opportunity for children (and adults) to practice social skills is a play date.
Of course, educators are not directly responsible for students’ leisure time, but it is worthwhile to encourage these meetings. When I am working with a family, I tell parents that a play date is an appointment for children to get together and play, not a house tour, dinner party, or (insert lengthy and/or intimidating social event here.)  The best play dates, particularly early in a friendship, are brief and structured; outdoors, like at a park or playground, or in another neutral, child-friendly setting; and involve a cooperative game or activity. A play date also provides a real-life opportunity for parents to praise preferred behaviors and encourage independent problem solving.

Some students need, and can benefit from clearly structured and regularly scheduled social skills instruction, usually in a group format. This is an increasingly popular intervention for children with disabilities or other difficulties with peer navigation. Social skills groups, the subject of my next column, can be effective, but practitioners must be sensitive to cultural and linguistic variables.

Ideally, all children would be able to quickly read an environment or take turns in conversation, but there are no guarantees.  Supported practice, both in and outside school, is a great way to build language and social skills. I welcome members’ ideas about this topic, as well as any other email.

Sharon A. Hollander, Special Education SIG Rep.,  is a Psychologist at Children’s Specialized Hospital, 94 Stevens Road, Toms River 08755 shollander@njtesol-njbe.org

NEW SIG— Student Representatives

Let's Grow our Profession

By Gordon Rowan and Bianca Rivera

If you are a New Jersey university student currently working toward certification as K-12 ESL and bilingual educators, please consider becoming a student representative on the NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board. Student representatives are appointed to a year-long position and tasked with reaching out to students currently enrolled in ESL and bilingual teacher education programs in universities across the state.

By creating the student representative position, the Executive Board of NJTESOL/NJBE wants to stress the importance that we, as the next generation of teachers, take a leadership role in our profession beyond what we experience in our individual schools and classrooms. This organization advocates for ESL and bilingual teachers in the areas of classroom practices, research, curriculum development, funding, employment,  and socio-political concerns. This important work can only continue with the support and involvement from the next generation of language teachers.

Getting involved in NJTESOL/NJBE is a great way to network.  Membership offers the opportunity to join discussions on how NJTESOL/NJBE can be a resource to you as you enter this dynamic and growing field. We invite all university students to become members of this important group.  As a member, you can engage in ongoing forums on Facebook and Twitter.

You are also invited to join us for the 2014 Spring Conference, May 28 and 29, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, New Brunswick, NJ. As a student volunteer,  you may have an opportunity to help at the conference and also have the registration fee waived return . 

We are interested to know how NJTESOL/NJBE can be of help and relevance to your educational pursuits beyond what you are learning in classrooms. Some potential topics for workshops that have been discussed involve the job search, resume writing and interview skills, as well as demonstration lessons.  Please send us an email with your ideas about what would be most of interest to you as a student NJTESOL/NJBE member.  Email NJTESOL/NJBE President Cassandra Lawrence at clawrence@njtesol-njbe.org if you are interested in becoming a Student Representative in the coming year.

Gordon Rowan and Bianca Rivera, graduate students at Rutgers, the State University, in New Brunswick, are serving as co-student representatives this year and working to establish this position and advocate for students in Teacher Education programs. They can be reached at gar9@scarletmail.rutgers.edu or biancari@eden.rutgers.edu .


The PARCC* Threat to Bilingual Education and Native Language Support: What You Can Do About It

By JoAnne Negrín

There is a real threat to sensible, research-based bilingual education code such as the one we have in New Jersey. As the Supervisors’ SIG Representative, I am active in this fight, but you also need to be aware of this threat to bilingual education and native language support in New Jersey’s public schools.

The PARCC consortium has decided to offer the Language Arts assessment in English only. I have heard that spokespeople from PARCC are saying that they made this decision because they want it to be a test of English proficiency. As a WIDA state, we already have the ACCESS for ELLs, which has been developed specifically to be a measure of English language development.

This decision is not consistent with other PARCC policy, as the Math portion of the test will be offered in Spanish. As you know, there is a great deal of language required in order to do math problems as well.

This decision is not in the best interest of students and contradicts four decades of language acquisition research. Furthermore, it asks states such as New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico to violate their own bilingual education laws, as students would no longer be assessed in the language that they are instructed in by code. In fact, it could signal the beginning of the end of bilingual education laws that are grounded in research and best practices.

Furthermore, studies show that it is statistically almost impossible for an ELL with a proficiency level below a 5 on the WIDA scale to score proficient on our current state standardized tests in English. The policy proposed by PARCC labels our students as failures without taking into consideration any content they may know in their first language.

Students who previously may have passed tests in Spanish will no longer be able to pass them if the test is no longer available in their language of instruction. In districts such as Vineland, which has approximately 700 students in bilingual programs in four magnet schools, offering the test only in English will have a dramatic and negative effect on teachers and administrators whose own ratings are tied to student performance on standardized tests. This will further discourage teachers and administrators from working in districts and schools with high populations of ELLs.

Given the new evaluation systems that are being put into place for teachers and administrators and the fact that Spanish-speaking ELLs comprise the fastest growing group of students in the U.S., this is an issue that cannot be ignored. We must not allow politics to trump the best interests of children, all while punishing the teachers and administrators who work with those children.

PARCC is a multi-state consortium, and it is likely that their stance on this issue is an effort to accommodate both bilingual education states (by telling those states that they are “permitted” to take on the astronomical expense of recreating the assessments in Spanish – at a time of shrinking state budgets) and anti-bilingual education states. Although NJTESOL/NJBE has taken a position on this issue, the New Jersey Department of Education has the power to communicate directly with the PARCC consortium. If you feel that the new language policy is unfair to our students and the teachers and administrators who work with them, you can write to Dr. Jeffrey Hauger, Director of Assessment, New Jersey Department of Education, Office of State Assessments, P.O. Box 500, Trenton, NJ 08625-0500. If you have a politically active community, please encourage them to do the same.

* Editor’s Note:   The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of 18 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers. These new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal from 3rd grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support. The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year.

PARCC received an $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment competition … to support the development and design of the next-generation assessment system.

(Published on PARCC (http://parcconline.org)

JoAnne Negrín, Supervisor of Bilingual Education, ESL, World Languages, & Performing Arts; NCLB/Title I Coordinator Vineland Public Schools jnegrin@vineland.org


Teacher Education

Teacher Educators: Bridging Theory and Practice

By Mary Curran

A common criticism of teacher education is that there is a gap between theory intensive programs and preparation for the everyday practice of teaching. NJTESOL/NJBE provides several ways for teacher educators to bridge the theory/practice divide that can often exist in teacher education programs.  First, teacher educators can encourage their students to take advantage of the free student membership, which links students into a network of practicing professionals with years of experience. The daily Hotlist postings with questions from the field, helpful hints, job openings, and more are full of essential information for new (and seasoned) teachers.  Second, teacher educators can promote attendance at the annual convention and encourage presenting a poster session or giving a session at the Grad Student Forum.  Both of these activities help future teachers engage with and learn from their peers.  By participating, they demonstrate that they are active members of our professional community, and that looks good on resumes and professional development plans.

A helpful session for teacher educators at our spring conference is titled “What ESL Teachers Need to Know.”  Teacher educators should encourage their students to attend, as the goal of the session is to prepare ESL teachers for the job market.   District supervisors will present their perspectives on the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for today's ESL teachers. This session will provide important information for new teachers, job-changers, and teacher educators.

At Rutgers, one of the ways we work to bridge the theory and practice divide (in addition to practica and student teaching) is by offering our students opportunities to engage in community-based education and service learning projects.  For example, as part of our Principles of Second/Foreign Language Acquisition course, students work as English conversation partners with new immigrant parents in the community. At the same time, they are learning theory and pedagogy.  They can use these new concepts as lenses to understand the experiences of the adults and families in their local setting.  For many students, these experiences have been transformative as they build relationships with their partners and learn more about the diverse immigrant family experiences. 

What are other teacher educators doing in NJ to bridge the theory/practice divide?  Send an email with your innovative practices, and we can include them in the next newsletter.

Mary Curran, Teacher Education SIG Representative, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, mary.curran@gse.rutgers.edu