Language First Program Standards – Why they are necessary

March 28, 2023

As classroom teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators in schools, we’re responsible for ensuring that every student receives an education which aligns with the school or district’s mission, and that it meets the standards and expectations for academic achievement across grade levels. With the standards-based movement came the importance of standards-aligned curriculum resources, professional learning for teachers and staff which supports research-based instructional practice, and assessments that evaluate as authentically as possible the depth of students’ knowledge and understanding of academic content. It goes without saying that having standards and expectations supports districts, schools, staff, and grade-level teams in setting goals, reflecting on student data, and ultimately, refining what they do as part of an ongoing cycle of improvement, and yes, celebration.

But, what happens to everything we’ve outlined above when dual language immersion education becomes part of the process? What stays the same? What must look or happen differently as students learn in two (or more!) languages?

The great news is that nothing about the standards-based movement changes when dual language and immersion education enters the picture. In fact, we encourage schools to continue upholding their high standards for academics as part of the DLI program. You might be surprised to know that DLI programs are monitored extra-heavily sometimes in terms of students’ academic achievement in English as a way to “prove that the DLI model works” and that the notion of “first do no harm” is playing out in the program. While this seems noble, it can also be a bit confusing because it focuses so much on the majority language of English.

See, in DLI education, classroom teachers are responsible for balancing two very important things: the intentional learning of the target language AND grade-level academic expectations. These same teachers are also charged with prioritizing the three goals of dual language and immersion education: high levels of L1 and L2 language skills, academic achievement, and cultural competence. THAT’S where it gets tricky. Teachers share that:

  • it’s a lot to manage and set goals for when the only “official” standards set in place and monitored are specifically for academics.
  • the target language rightfully touches EVERY aspect of their practice, but it’s often not reflected at all in what gets prioritized for goal-setting, program reflection, or even assessment.


Teachers, we hear you. We’ve been there.

Enter: The addalingua Language First program standards.

We developed the addalingua program standards to support schools in establishing their sense of urgency and intensity for how the minority language is prioritized throughout the program so that it’s viewed with just as much passion and purpose as academics are. Here’s how we did it:

  • We began a careful review of pivotal dual language immersion education studies along with wonderful works like the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (CAL, DLE of New Mexico, and Santillana), and Dual Language Instruction from A to Z: Practical Guidance for Teachers and Administrators (Nancy Cloud, Else Hamayan, and Fred Genessee). We winnowed the information down to high-leverage principles and practices directly connected to gains for students in the three goal areas.
  • We then compared this information with our own front-row-seat observations and notes gathered from consistent interactions with DLI educators. From there, we highlighted where there seemed to be a clear intersection between our observations and the high-leverage principles and practices.
  • Next, we shaped these intersections into clear statements or standards. We then connected those standards to success indicators or descriptions of what “alignment” might look like for DLI communities, leaders, teachers, and students.
  • Finally, we grouped the standards and success indicators into overarching topics to determine four focus areas or quadrants: program fidelity, dual language development, biliteracy & counterbalanced instruction, and progress monitoring.


For so many schools, these standards have helped expectations come alive. They’re more than simply a set of statements displayed on a poster in the teacher’s lounge. They’re the lens through which DLI teacher teams process the effectiveness of their instruction as they view student data. They’re often what prompt shifts in how schools elect the language of instruction for assessments. They include students — yes, the STUDENTS — in the conversation about WHY the program does what it does. We’ve even seen ways they empower communities to generate new and innovative ideas to support the program! These standards celebrate and honor the fact that students ARE learning in two (or more!) languages, and that teachers are doing the important and heady work of balancing content and language all day, everyday. Check out what Amanda Armsey, a DLI practitioner and program advisor from Michigan, has to say about her experience with the standards:

None of us would give a 900 Lexile level book to a second grader and anticipate he would understand what he was reading and be able to use that reading as a springboard to other activities; we know that he would not be linguistically equipped and therefore would not be successful. I “live the Language First standards” because I know they are crucial for student success; without language proficiency, the vehicle by which students learn content is unavailable to take them anywhere and, subsequently, learning of content suffers.

It’s been over a decade now since we first conceptualized the addalingua standards and certification. Since then, they have helped hundreds of educators gain clarity and build unity around common practices to help students reach the three goals of proficiency & literacy in two languages, cultural competence, and academic achievement. Instead of relying on individual opinions and experiences or the latest DLI trends to guide decision-making, DLI teams use the standards as a third-point reference to get everyone on the same page much in the same way they do with academic standards. And THAT launches what can be a special balance between language and content program-wide.

If you’re curious about the addalingua Language First program standards or the Language First approach, reach out to us. We’d love to chat.

Learn more about the Language First approach by watching our webinar (link here).