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Common Core Special Issue: December 2012
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Blending Common Core and TESOL Standards for ELLs
by Judith B. O'Loughlin & Lynore Carnuccio

The fastest growing segment of the school-age population in the United States is the English language learner (ELL), with more than 5 million in U.S. schools. Census data reveals nearly one in every five school-age children comes from a home where a language other than English is spoken (TESOL, 2010). This indicates that, if the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are to be implemented equitably for all students, ELL needs must be considered.

Standards Snapshot:  CCSS and TESOL Standards

The CCSS initiative created a nationally “shared set of standards” for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. However, the CCSS does not include supports for the simultaneous acquisition of academic English and mastery of content that ELLs must attain.

The goal of the CCSS is to provide a consistent standards framework, guiding member states with appropriate benchmarks for all students, “regardless of where they live” (CCSS, 2010). The statement indicates that students, whether rural, suburban, or urban, even with different academic resources, are able to succeed academically, if instruction focuses on these benchmark standards.

TESOL Standards
TESOL’s PreK–12 English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS; 2006) are designed to illustrate the process of academic language acquisition while allowing ELLs to participate in content instruction at their levels of language proficiency. The performance definitions (p. 39) note the linguistic skills and abilities of ELLs to further define the levels of ELPS across standards.

The ELPS were informed by multiple resource documents, which guaranteed that they incorporated individual state as well as national content standards at the time of publication. Therefore, these English language proficiency standards are already aligned with the content standards many teachers use to guide content instruction.

Blending CCSS and TESOL Standards
The ELPS provide a resource to blend both the CCSS and the individual state standards so that ELLs are prepared to meet the rigorous goals of college and career readiness. These standards provide consistent guidance to content teachers of ELLs by describing how to teach the language of the content, how to differentiate, and how to scaffold content instruction. Understanding students’ English language ability and performance along a continuum from “starting” through “bridging” (comprehensively described with instructional scaffolds in the ELPS) provides teachers with models of instruction, holding ELLs to the same “high expectations” as native speakers. 

The CCSS represent the mastery of “rigorous” academic content learning and higher-order skills application, while the ELPS break academic learning down into basic components, recognizing the developmental process of both  mastery of knowledge and language skills, starting at a the most basic level.

The CCSS note the what, focusing on the bigger picture, the summative result. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)/International Reading Association (IRA), the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) standards provide more specificity with finite content-related instruction to attain those goals.

The ELPS illustrate how the variety of standards can be addressed and met across the continuum of language proficiency levels. They are designed to illustrate the process of academic language acquisition while allowing ELLs to participate in content instruction at their level of language proficiency. See the interrelationship of the various standards in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Standards Interrelationship
(click to enlarge)

The power and flexibility of these standards lie in the strands of sample performance indicators.  These performance indicators, as their name suggests, are samples of the myriad of content topics students encounter daily. The performance definitions note the linguistic skills and abilities of ELLs and further define the levels of language proficiency across the English language proficiency standards.  This provides all educators working with ELLs a snapshot of how much English language, in an academic content area, a student has acquired. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Performance Definitions
(click to enlarge)

Paths to Academic Success

The ELPS provide the perfect road map for blending CCSS, and state and national content standards, and for differentiating the paths to the common goal of academic success through instruction to best meet the needs of ELLs. While the CCSS provide more of an overarching umbrella, the strands and sample performance indicators in the TESOL standards delineate instruction within content areas according to language proficiency level. Therefore, teachers are able to address the various levels of English proficiency by using the sample performance indicator strands to guide instruction to best meet the needs of their ELLs.

This differentiation is illustrated in this TESOL Social Studies sample performance indicator strand (Figure 3), in which reading is the targeted language domain. This example parallels goals in the NCTE/IRA standards noted earlier. The TESOL sample content topics also correlate with the content of the CCSS and NCSS standards, also noted earlier. The TESOL strand is essentially an implementation or lesson-planning guide, which illustrates how to address the content standards and implement comprehensible instruction for ELLs.

Figure 3. Standards Comparison Chart
(click to enlarge)

The level 5 sample performance indicator represents the tasks that would approximate the instructional target for native-speaking students, but levels 1 through 4 (starting through developing) describe how instruction on a standards-based topic can be addressed for ELLs at various English language proficiency levels. (See Figure 4.) This strand allows all students in the class to participate in some way with the content presented in the whole class instruction, since instruction is differentiated according to the variety of English language proficiency levels.

Figure 4. Sample Performance Indicator Matrix
(click to enlarge)

Addressing All Standards

Based on the goals of each set of standards, a hierarchy can be created to illustrate the relationship between standards. (See Figure 5.) Because CCSS are broader in scope, they are placed at the apex of the triangle.  Below the CCSS, the state and/or national content standards, which must be mastered to successfully master the CCSS, are listed.  The base of the triangle is a strand from the ELPS

Figure 5. Standards Hierarchy
(click to enlarge)

This hierarchy allows ELLs to work toward the same academic goals as their native English-speaking classmates, even though their paths may be adjusted to address their language abilities. It is important for all teachers working with ELLS to note that it may take longer for an ELL to attain the same academic goals as their native-speaking peers, due to the fact that they are doing twice the work by learning academic language and academic content simultaneously (Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007). Because both language development and academic knowledge are cumulative, addressing the content by building the academic language in English provides the springboard for both mastery of content knowledge and language development.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). (2010). The common core state standards. Retrieved from

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (2010). National curriculum standards for social studies. (2010). Retrieved from

National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment; National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) & International Reading Association (IRA). (2010). NCTE/IRA standards for the English language arts. Retrieved from

National Standards for History in the Schools (NSHS). (1996) History Standards. Retrieved from

Short, D. J., & Fitzsimmons, S. (2007). Double the work: Challenges and solutions to acquiring language and academic literacy for adolescent English language learners. A report of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  Retrieved from

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). (2006). PreK–12 English language proficiency standards. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2010, April). TESOL comments on the Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Standards and focal points. Retrieved from

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2009). Paper to practice: Using the TESOL English language proficiency standards in prek–12 classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Author.


Judith B. O’Loughlin, MEd, Past-Chair of TESOL’s Professional Development Committee, is an independent education consultant, certified in ESL and special education.  She works closely with K–12 teachers, providing professional development short and long-term workshops, as well as preservice graduate level courses leading toward TESOL endorsement and/or advanced degree programs. In her work, Ms. O’Loughlin advocates for standards-based differentiated instruction focused on the teaching of academic language and content through sheltered instruction and assessment.

Lynore Carnuccio, Director of Curriculum for The Language Company, is coauthor of the 2006 TESOL PreK–12 English Language Proficiency Standards.  A frequent presenter at state and national conferences including TESOL, NABE, ASCD, NASDME, and NAFSA, her goal is to assist educators in creating the most effective standards-based, legally sufficient programs to serve English language learners. She holds an MEd in TESL from the University of Central Oklahoma.

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of TESOL Connections.

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Table of Contents
TC Homepage
A Glance at the CCSS
CCSS: What's Happening for ELLs?
Standards That Impact ELLs
CCSS & TESOL Standards
TESOL & the NG Science Standards
Association News
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