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Advocating for English Learners during Distance Learning

14 Oct 2020 5:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

To continue our month of advocacy, we are honored to share this blog post written by Diane Staehr Fenner, author and president of SupportEd.


We have learned that in some districts in the United States, a disproportionate number of ELs did not participate in distance learning in spring 2020 – they just did not show up.

With the majority of school divisions in Virginia beginning the school year either fully remote or using a hybrid model, our sudden pivot in spring 2020 to distance learning has now largely become the norm this fall. The image below shows how school divisions have begun the 2020-21 school year.

As of the 2019-20 school year, English learners (ELs) made up nearly nine percent of the school-age population in Virginia, and we must ensure that ELs receive an equitable education during the current, highly unusual school year. We know that ELs already faced multiple challenges in terms of equity before the pandemic began, and the widespread adoption of distance learning models has exacerbated those inequities. We have learned that in some districts in the United States, a disproportionate number of ELs did not participate in distance learning in spring 2020 – they just did not show up. However, we can leverage our advocacy skills to ensure ELs are included in policy and practice conversations and not an afterthought this school year.  

While there are many advocacy issues for ELs who are taking part in distance learning, this blog post will focus on only three: supporting EL families, scaffolding instruction for ELs, and ensuring valid assessment for ELs. For each issue, I will summarize the urgency around advocacy and will offer some resources to support your advocacy for ELs. 

First and foremost, we must support EL families during these stressful times. From helping families receive the technology and tools needed in order for their children to access online instruction through helping them connect to resources in their communities such as food banks and healthcare, advocating for EL families has never been more crucial. We must collaborate to join forces in support of our EL families. 

Suggested resources: 

Now more than ever, we must ensure instruction is appropriately scaffolded for ELs who are learning in a distance learning environment. We have the opportunity to improve ELs’ instruction during the current year and must ensure that ELs are meaningfully included and supported so they can learn content and continue to develop their academic language skills. ELs may now have limited opportunities to practice their English in face to face settings, so we must advocate and offer our expertise in ways to foster ELs’ participation and learning. 

Suggested resources:

Last spring, many school districts decided that assessments would not count and students would not receive grades. That is overwhelmingly not the case during the current school year, as students are expected to take part in instruction as well as assessment, and most students will receive grades. The stakes are particularly high for ELs, since there are already many barriers to valid assessment and grading for this group of students. 

Suggested resources: 

As we settle in to our new routines this year, let’s make sure that we take time to reflect on advocacy as a crucial tool to allow our ELs’ assets to shine.


SupportEd is a woman-owned small business based in Fairfax, VA. We offer five formats and multiple topics for online professional development to help you best support your ELs in distance learning, hybrid, or face-to-face environments:

  1. Virtual PD

  2. Webinars

  3. On-demand courses

  4. Facilitated 12-hour courses

  5. Online book studies

For more information, see

To learn more about the different types of online PD we offer, see

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