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How do we monitor the progress of English Learners?

By Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer

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 Connecting Assessment to Instruction for English Learners. To learn more about Star Spanish, click the button below.

Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer
Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer
Carol Johnson is a bilingual educator and National Education Officer at Renaissance. She holds a PhD in Second Language Acquisition & Teaching, specializing in how people learn second languages.


  1. Amber AuBain says:

    Great information!

  2. Laura says:

    I have my first ESL student this year she is really making connections and her english vocabulary is really growing.

  3. Liana Ferrer says:

    With my English learners, I first look at their Star Reading scores to determine their level. I also use the individual skill report that allows me to address their weak areas. As for books to read, depending on their level, we pick out books they can read so they feel success. If I can find short stories that happen to be bilingual I use those too.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      Setting up a student for success is what we all strive to do. Using more than one data point from a student’s Renaissance Star Reading assessment is a fantastic way to address the needs of the individual student at both the macro and micro level. Supporting biliteracy this way is fantastic.

  4. Jody Steinhaus says:

    My ESL students work so hard to make gains. My students take their learning seriously and work diligently to achieve their goals. They teach me new things all of the time. My ESL students add so much to our classroom.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      Teaching ESL students gave me an appreciation for how hard it is to learn in a language you are still learning. I am grateful every day for what I learned from my ESL students.

  5. Katie Peugh says:

    Great info!

  6. Carly says:

    I love that Renaissance provides reports in Spanish that allow me to connect with my Latino parents. Parental support is so important to help students be successful. I also rely on and coordinate with the ESL specialist who uses data from Star and other sources to help our language learners fill in gaps. One issue common to our school is that those students who speak Spanish are not able to read or write it.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      Thank you for your comment, Carly! Parents love to know how their children are doing. Offering Renaissance Star Reports in multiple languages does a great job engaging parents in their children’s achievement.

  7. Amy Armet says:

    Breaking down our data to truly understand it helps us use it to drive our instruction. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      While we are all familiar with grade level standards, we also know that getting students to grade level requires meeting them where they are currently. Disaggregating data by English language proficiency and grade level guides instruction by revealing where students are relative to ELP and grade level benchmarks, thus guiding instruction.

  8. P R says:

    My Hispanic students are English speakers this year. However, in the past, I have looked at STAR reading scores and intervened with the SIOP strategies that best fit into the AR scheme. Plus. I had them in a group during literacy time in which they read a novel in which they would feel successful.

  9. Mario says:

    Very good information and I am glad that Renaissance offer “Renaissance Star Spanish”. Will definitely check it out. Here in my campus, we use Renaissance Star to monitor student’s growth.

  10. Renee Graham says:

    It is very unusual for me to have no Spanish ELL students, but this year I don’t. I do have six Asian student though. I depend on STAR data and the skills reports to direct my small group instruciton.

  11. Virginia Wiedenfeld says:

    Thank you for the support of our ELL students!

  12. Andrea says:

    When student take their comprehension quiz, I also have them take the vocabulary test if one is offered. This really helps the ESL students learn the language.

  13. Sarah Burch says:

    This is great info. for something that I am not familiar with but would possibly help me in the future.

  14. Alecia Walkuski says:

    I focus on vocabulary development and other SIOP methods to help EL students. STAR does help in measuring their learning of English.

  15. Virginia Travis says:

    My ESL students read books appropriate to their level and take daily AR tests. They are pulled out by the ESL teacher and their data is kept in my data notebook.

  16. David Keech says:

    Understandin ELL learners and their culture is important, because it influences and impacts the way they learn, talk, write, and think.

  17. Maria Bermudez says:

    great information to help our ESL students

  18. Christina says:

    Thank you for the great information in helping our ELL students succeed.

  19. Lisa Capon says:

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Cathy Kelley says:

    I currently do not have any ESL students, but great information to know.

  21. Sandra says:

    Really glad that you support ELL learners and understand that they are learning a new language.

  22. Kaylie says:

    I am so thrilled that my administration and media specialist have added English in a Flash for my ELL students. This program helps ELL students learn vocabulary and grammar and gives them assessments and immediate feedback. I use this in conjunction with AR for my ELL learners and have seen so much growth.

  23. Tamara says:

    Thank you for the great ESL information!

  24. Angela Domond says:

    This was very helpful because this is the first year I have an ELL student in my class. Thank you.

  25. s. bellomo says:

    We do assess students with STAR to see where they are in fluency and comprehension. STAR Spanish is something that I need to explore. These are always interesting articles.

  26. Shannon Anderson says:

    Thanks for the great info!

  27. Shannon Anderson says:

    Thanks for the great info! This was informative, and I feel that it will be beneficial to my EL students.

  28. Lloyd Goldberg says:

    I wasn’t aware of this. Does Renaissance have plans to implement other languages?

  29. Debbie Vehnekamp says:

    ELL students start out at an AR level consistent with their ability to read and understand English. They are moved up as their abilities improve.

  30. Maya M says:

    Enjoyed this! I’ve learned so much through TFA about ESL students and haven’t yet had a chance to incorporate good ideas. Will share!

  31. Krystal Dozier says:

    Great info! Currently, I don’t service any ELL students.

  32. Jody Steinhaus says:

    This is great info. Thank you.