Academic Preparedness of ESL Students

Mar 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Community College, Levels
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Academic Preparedness of ESL Students—
A Factor in Student Success and Program Survival


—The last several years have been turbulent for the teaching of ESL in California. From the Student Success Act of 2012, to new repeatability and basic skills limitations, to more recent proposals to move most ESL into noncredit, our discipline has been under consistent pressure on community college campuses to rethink its goals and offerings in the context of the state’s evolving educational priorities. Where are we in this new reality? How do we fit in the current vision of student success? What strategies should we consider to survive?

The article below is based on the presentation that was part of the “Rethinking Community College ESL in Times of Transformation” panel at CATESOL 2013 San Diego. It surveys the practices observed at Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) and other districts that enhance the legitimacy of ESL programs by strengthening the academic aspects of their curriculum and building bridges to our sister programs such as credit English and noncredit ESL programs on campus, as well as credit ESL programs at other colleges.

"Rethinking Community College ESL" panel participants at CATESOL 2013

Panel participants in CATESOL 2013’s “Rethinking Community College ESL in Times of Transformation” are (left to right) Lane Igoudin, Leigh Anne Shaw, Jeff Frost, Kathleen Flynn, and Nancy Sander.

 “Why Do We Need ESL Today?”

We often hear on campuses from our well-meaning non-ESL colleagues, “Why should we offer credit ESL courses at community colleges? ESL does not lead to any college diplomas. Aren’t these students better served at adult schools, or by noncredit programs?” Our message to the campus could be as follows:

Credit ESL is relevant and necessary because it provides nonnative college students with academic skills they need to succeed in regular classes.

But then, we should ask ourselves: How do we get these students? What do we do to ensure their academic success in, and especially, after ESL? I’d like to offer a two-pronged set of strategies.

 Look Beyond the ESL Bubble

◊ Start with English.

When was the last time you met with your English faculty to review your curricula? How aware are you of the skills set expected in the English courses your ESL students exit into? Is the English program on your campus literature or research based? Or both? Is it aligned with the state’s English AA-T degree requirements? What are the expectations of the student’s knowledge of citation/referencing and literary analysis? Here are some further steps that you could take.

  • Work with the English programs on aligning ESL exit/English entry skills in writing and reading.
  • Familiarize yourself with remedial English content and textbooks.
  • Share, if possible, textbooks. At Los Angeles City College (LACC), for instance, our advanced ESL courses incorporate the use of the citation/reference handbook (Hacker) used subsequently in all English courses.
  • Conduct joint final exams and/or SLO assessments in the parallel levels of ESL and developmental English.

◊ Keep subject courses in mind.

Is your writing/reading content geared toward research-based academic writing and reading necessary in virtually all of today’s transfer-level courses, from Early Childhood Development to History to Biology? Practices in this area include:

  • Pair classes with subject courses (content-based instruction, or CBI).
  • Engage with Reading Apprenticeship ( or similar programs educating non-language faculty on reading strategies for students that maximize their success in subject courses.

ESL could be an important conduit, with ESL faculty serving as faculty trainers.

◊ Ensure transferability of advanced-level ESL courses.

This is a common feature in many ESL programs, an added value that helps justify the existence of ESL courses on campus and helps attract international students into ESL, rather than often nontransferrable remedial English courses.

◊ Work with noncredit faculty on aligning their exit and your entry curriculum with academic skills in mind.

Is there a direct and well-trodden path from noncredit into credit ESL on your campus? Are the noncredit students prepared adequately for your lowest credit level? When was the last time you met with your noncredit ESL faculty? LACC now has its first “bridge sections,” in which noncredit students gear up on the skills necessary in the beginning and intermediate levels of credit ESL. Credit faculty has also met with the noncredit program to discuss aligning the curriculum, an initiative supported by the campus administration.

 Look Beyond the Campus Bubble

 ◊ Learn about Common Core standards in English in K-12 and CSUs.

In 2010, California, joining 44 other states, adopted Common Core Standards for K-12. This academic year Common Core is implemented across the state, from elementary to high schools. The new standards redirect the teaching of English, in particular, toward critical skills and deeper-level analytical reading required at the college level. In its next step, the state proposes to align the high school exit skills with CSU entrance exams. For specific information, visit

Community colleges are starting to get involved too. Read, for instance, “Embracing and Implementing New K-12 Standards in English, Mathematics and Science” (Smith & Holcroft, 2013) in FACCC Senate Rostrum at

◊ Align ESL curriculum with that of the colleges in the same or neighboring districts.

Standardized curriculum, which shares assessment instruments, course content, unit loads, and so on, makes for a faster, even seamless, student transfer between campuses, and it expedites the student’s path through ESL, especially in the context of impacted programs and low seat availability. In LACCD, which includes nine community colleges in the greater Los Angeles area, the ESL Discipline Committee has undertaken the multiyear Curriculum Redesign Project to unite the credit ESL program through joint course outlines ( The redesigned course outlines for the six-level writing core courses leading up to transfer-level English have been approved and are being implemented throughout the district. The committee is now completing a parallel sequence of reading/vocabulary electives.

The ESL discipline has survived the many sociopolitical challenges it has faced thanks to its ability to adapt to the changing environment. As long as we stay engaged, our programs will continue to thrive.


Smith, B., & Holcroft, C. (2013, June). “Embracing and Implementing New K-12 Standards in English, Mathematics and Science.” FACCC Senate Rostrum, 4-5.

Lane Igoudin is associate professor of English/ESL at Los Angeles City College and chair of the LACCD ESL Discipline Committee.

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