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Students who speak English as a second language need specialized instruction and assessment. This lesson describes assessment procedures for English-language learners and explains how to use these results in the classroom.

Special Considerations for English-Language Learners

Imagine that when you took your drivers’ test, your instructor didn’t speak English. He gave you commands and asked questions in a foreign language you didn’t understand, and though you knew how to drive and had studied for this test, you failed. Sounds unfair, right? You knew the content and how to drive but weren’t able to understand the assessment.For many English-language learners (ELLs), or students who speak a language other than English, this scenario happens in the classroom all too often.

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Educators know that all students should be assessed in a way that accurately evaluates their learning. They create different forms of assessments, like portfolios and project work, and modify their criteria to fit different styles of learning. For ELL students, designing different assessments may mean considering their cultural and linguistic, or language, differences, and allowing opportunities for them to show what they know in effective ways.

Screenings

Julie is a second grade teacher with a new student, Manuel. Today is his first day, and Julie notices immediately that Manuel seems to have a limited English vocabulary. During her break, she inquires about his previous academic placement and learns that Manuel is new to this country, and that this is his first experience in an American school.

This is also the first time Julie has had an ELL student in her classroom. What should she do?Manuel needs to undergo a series of screenings, or formal assessments, that will provide Julie and other educators an idea of his abilities as a speaker of English. Her district requires that ELL students be screened within 30 days of enrollment, so she needs to get the ball rolling. The results of the screening will be used to determine what level of support services Manuel is eligible to receive. These are academic interventions that will help him learn English and how to adjust to academic life in America.

Components

Julie is a classroom teacher, so she isn’t trained to give an ELL screening. Manuel will go to a specially trained educator who knows the components and scoring criteria for the screening. Remember, the purpose of this initial screening is to make important decisions about what types of extra services, both in and out of the classroom, Manuel can receive. The screenings Manuel will receive are meant to assess his language skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.Most screening models are used for an initial screening and placement as well as a progress monitoring device, or one that is administered periodically to measure student growth.

Classroom Assessments

It’s six months later, and Manuel has adjusted to his new school. He receives services both in and out of the classroom that enable him to increase his language skills and adapt to the new environment.

Julie keeps a close eye on him as he grows as a learner. She uses assessments for Manuel that show what he learns and allow him to build confidence. Most of these are informal assessments, things like portfolios, projects, or presentations.For example, when the class learned about insects, much of the vocabulary was too challenging for Manuel; words like ‘arachnid’ and ‘thorax.’ Julie modified his instruction, making sure he understood major components of the lessons. While other students were taking a paper and pencil test that included a vocabulary section, Manuel was allowed to create a visual representation of insects. This way, he was able to show his understanding of key concepts in a way that fit his current level of understanding and emerging language skills.

Ongoing Assessments for ELL Students

More recent laws that support instruction for ELL students require teachers to keep detailed records of student growth. Part of this data includes close observations of student progress. Julie’s school creates folders for classroom teachers, in which they keep an ongoing record of ELL students. What does this look like?Julie monitors Manuel’s progress in all subjects. She takes anecdotal notes, or informal recordings of observations. She may write down that Manuel is raising his hand and participating more each day, or she may more formally record the number of times Manuel participates.

During reading and writing class, Julie takes notes on specific behaviors, like his oral reading score or how he is progressing in spelling and phonics. She adds writing samples and examples of other work Manuel completes that paints a picture of his progress. This way, the ELL teachers, Julie, and any professional working with Manuel know how he is doing and are able to provide specific instruction according to his needs.

Lesson Summary

All students require instruction and assessment that meets their needs.

English language learners (ELLs), or students who speak a language other than English, are no exception. When they first arrive at a new school, they receive a screening to determine their eligibility for the academic support services, or interventions, they’ll need. This screening tests their working knowledge in several areas, like listening, speaking, reading, and writing. This data is monitored and reassessed to maintain accurate services.

In the classroom, ELL students are given informal assessments that allow them to show their knowledge about topics without a language barrier. Examples include portfolios, projects, or presentations. Finally, teachers are required to keep accurate records of ELL students. They may take anecdotal notes, or informal recordings, to add to a student’s file. Periodic progress monitoring allows all those in contact with ELL students to be aware of their academic growth and needs.

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