Language learners and proficiency levels: What is their level?
By Erick Herrmann
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This is the second of a two-part article on language learners.
Once students have been identified as having an influence of a language other than English — done at registration through some form of Home Language Survey — they are tested to determine to what degree the influence has had on their English proficiency.
There are numerous measures used in schools across the country that categorize English learners into proficiency levels. While the names and number of proficiency levels vary according to the state, it is important to understand what the proficiency levels tell us about students and what they are able to do in our classrooms. While each state sets its proficiency levels, the following descriptors (from the Oregon Department of Education) can be used as a general guideline:
Once the proficiency level has been determined, it is important to reflect upon what that means for us as teachers. One useful tool is the Can Do Descriptors, defined by the World Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) Consortium, a group of 27 states, for guidance on how to adjust instruction and the tasks students complete in class. The descriptors focus on what students are able to demonstrate at each proficiency level.
But knowing the proficiency level of a student does not guarantee what the student knows or will be able to do. As mentioned before, English learners are a diverse population. Students' success on academic topics will vary depending on a variety of factors, just as it does for any other student group. Background knowledge, or what a student already knows about a particular topic, students' level of education and schooling, and other factors will have a large impact on students' success.
How are English Learners identified in your schools? What are the most common proficiency levels in your schools?
Erick Herrmann is an educational consultant specialized in teaching English learners, and he runs Educating English Learners. Erick has worked with thousands of teachers across the nation to help them improve their instructional practice and increase academic achievement for all students.