How can classroom teachers help their English Learners (ELs) level up on their writing English proficiency assessments? Grade level writing expectations are often too difficult for an EL to achieve. What can a classroom teacher reasonably expect an EL to achieve on writing assignments? How can improvements in writing be measured?
One thing that is especially helpful for ELs at all grade levels is to have direct instruction on grammar. Many times the students I taught were so busy learning conversational and survival English when in K – 3 that by 4th grade they were to the place where the English grammar rules taught back in first grade or second grade now could make more sense to them. They also had the language ability to process the rules better when they reached a middle language learning level rather than at the beginning or emerging levels.
Another way to help ELs improve is to understand the results of federally mandated English language proficiency tests. I am most familiar with the WIDA ACCESS for ELLs, which is currently used in 38 states. This test assesses the student’s proficiency in speaking, reading, listening, and writing. Each EL student is given a proficiency score for each area. Scores range from 0 – 6.0. Then, these scores are sorted into the following categories, ranging from the least proficient to the most proficient: Entering, Emerging, Developing, Expanding, and Bridging. It is critical for the classroom teacher to know which level their EL student falls into, because it allows the teacher to set realistic goals and expectations for the student and plan their curriculum accordingly.
Writing skills are assessed beginning with letters, words, and simple, compound, and complex sentences. Next, students are tested on their ability to write paragraphs and responses to nonfiction and fiction prompts, which include science, social studies, language arts or math content. Results for this portion are sorted into grade levels and tiers. Grade level groups are K, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. There are three tiers, which are described as follows:
- Tier A
Students with lowest level of English proficiency
- Tier B
Students who can generally converse in and understand conversational English
- Tier C
More advanced students, closest to grade-level English fluency
It is difficult to track academic progress for ELs without the tools to do so. I have created an awesome tool to help classroom teachers monitor their students’ writing progress throughout the school year. Here is what the process entails.
- Get a writing sample from each EL in the class.
- Note on the attached form what skills the student demonstrates, and be sure to include the students’ most recent writing assessment score from WIDA or another source.
- Re-assess periodically.
I have seen significant progress with my students using these criteria to guide my instruction. Using this as a way to “grade” a modified writing assignment will provide a true assessment of an ELs improvement and progress in writing English. It is a tool to assist students to get to the baseline in writing skills equivalent to their native English-speaking peers.
Click here for a free Writing Assessment Tracker. Using this tool will help set goals and document student progress. Make 3 copies for each EL, put them in their writing folder or portfolio, and you will be ready for the year.