Informing Instruction for English Learners

A fresh start. A clean slate. The beginning of a new school year can be brimming with possibilities and excitement around the growth potential that has yet to be tapped for your students. It is also the perfect time to re-evaluate and tweak some of your instruction methods for the year ahead. When it comes to helping English learners succeed this year, you can make a significant impact by taking one simple action: connecting students’ assessments to your instruction. 

With piles of assessment data to sort through, you may be thinking, “it’s not that simple.” So, where do you begin? Start by asking these four essential questions.

1. How are my English learners doing compared to grade-level benchmarks? 

Pull a screening report for the entire class to determine how your English learners are performing against grade-level benchmarks. That way, you can evaluate whether your English learners are at or above benchmark, considered on watch, or in need of urgent intervention. Renaissance Star Assessments provide easy-to-read screening reports, with color-coded sections for each category.

2. How are my English learners doing compared to their “true” peers—other EL students in the same grade and at the same English language proficiency level (ELP)?

Group your students by ELP level to determine how they are performing relative to their fellow EL peers. For example, Star Assessments let you sort this information by WIDA level, which ranks their progress on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 is students who need urgent intervention, and 5 is students who are on their way to approaching benchmark).

These first two questions provide information about students’ achievement in English, irrespective of their native languages. Now consider the fact that over 3.7 million of the English learners in U.S. public schools during the 2014–15 school year were native speakers of Spanish. Imagine how amazing it would be to have the ability to identify the skills your native Spanish-speaking English learners are able to demonstrate in 1) English and 2) Spanish. This leads to our next set of questions.

3. Do your native Spanish-speaking students have skills in Spanish they cannot yet demonstrate in English?

A report like the one shown above provides the answer to this question concerning the grade-level literacy skills a student can demonstrate in English versus the skills he or she can demonstrate in Spanish.

The black dots represent the student’s ability to demonstrate mastery of skills in English. The white dots represent the student’s ability to demonstrate the same skills in Spanish. Both sets of scores appear mostly in the red section of the report, which tells you the student has not yet mastered these skills in either language. But the scores also reveal the student is much more able to demonstrate mastery in Spanish (white dots) than English (black dots).

How you use this information in the classroom depends on the language of instruction, which leads us to our next important question.

4. Do your students receive instruction in both English and Spanish or in English only?

Knowing the grade-level skills your students can demonstrate by language can be used to inform instruction in both the English-speaking classroom and the Spanish-speaking classroom. While it is more obvious how this information applies to a student receiving instruction in both languages, consider the value of knowing that students have already mastered skills in their native language that they simply cannot yet demonstrate in English.

It is important to have the right data to connect assessment to instruction for ELs. Want more insights? Check out this on-demand webinar (https://www.renaissance.com/webinar/connecting-assessment-instruction-english-learners/) to learn practical tips for supporting English learners in your district. 

Carol Johnson is a bilingual educator and national education officer at Renaissance. She holds a PhD in second-language acquisition and teaching, specializing in how people learn second languages. 

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