September 28, 2017

By Carol Johnson

Sharing the same goal

As educators, we all share the same goal—to prepare students for college and career success. This academic achievement happens over time, and the process for English Learners is no exception. Since we’re talking a process of years, many educators across the country measure students’ academic progress three or more times a year to ensure they are making sizeable progress in each grade. In addition to participating in academic screening, most English Learners take tests in English language proficiency (ELP) to ensure they are making the necessary gains.

Meet Alex

As you settle into the new school year, take a moment to consider how you monitor the progress of your English Learners. Consider the following scenario.

Alex is a Spanish-speaking English Learner in the third grade. He’s had classroom instruction in both English and Spanish since kindergarten. According to his state’s ELP exam, he is at level three out of five. He is fully conversational in English and is sometimes taken for a native English speaker. Even though he reads at a fourth-grade level in Spanish, he reads at a second-grade level in English.

Two questions may come to mind about Alex: (1) Is his performance typical for a third-grade English Learner at ELP level three? (2) Does he demonstrate skills in his native language that could transfer over to what he is learning in English?

Both questions matter. The answer to the first question is important because, according to Dr. Nelson Flores (2017), “We’re not talking about the ability to communicate in English. We’re talking about the ability to do grade-level content in English.”

Knowing that other students in the same grade and at the same ELP level read at a first-grade level while Alex reads at a second-grade level tells you something about him that might not be obvious: He is a good reader who appears to be making measurable progress toward handling grade-level content in English. As for the second question, the fact that Alex reads at grade level in Spanish means he has developed some important literacy skills that he can transfer to English.

Take two important steps

To ensure your English Learners are making progress toward college and career readiness, consider taking the following steps:

1. Disaggregate your English language arts and Math assessments by grade and ELP level. This level of disaggregation lets you know if a student’s performance is typical for the grade and ELP level.

2. Assess your English Learners in their native language (e.g. Spanish) in language arts and math. Comparison across languages reveals the grade-level skills a student has in their native language that they cannot yet demonstrate in English.

Know the power of (the right) technology

This is where the right technology, such as Renaissance Star 360®, makes all the difference, especially when it comes to guiding instruction and monitoring the progress of English Learners. The ability to disaggregate grade-level data by English language proficiency level lets educators compare the performance of every English Learner with that of “true peers”—students at the same grade and ELP level—as well as against benchmarks they need to reach. This information is critical for all English Learners, regardless of native language, and would be impossible without technology.

Native Spanish speakers make up more than 80 percent of the English learners in K–12. Because of this, Renaissance has developed Renaissance Star Spanish®, giving educators the ability to compare side-by-side the grade-level skills students can demonstrate in English to those they can demonstrate in Spanish. Like disaggregation, this can be done thanks to the technology of Star 360.

As the school year progresses, you can be confident that you are meeting the needs of your English Learners because you have the data needed to guide instruction and monitor their progress.

For more practical tips on supporting your EL students, watch Carol’s on-demand webinar on assessing emergent bilinguals. To learn more about Star Spanish, click the button below.