Wednesday / April 24

It’s the End of the Year! What Can We Do to Measure ELLs’ Progress?


Looking Behind

2014-2015 has been a unique academic year as most states transition to a new generation of achievement testing with its reliance on technology and emphasis on college and career readiness standards. The verdict is still out on how English language learners (ELLs) will fare. Also pending in most states are the annual results of English language proficiency testing and their impact on district and state accountability. That leaves school leaders and teachers in a bind as to which local data are most valuable and useful, especially for their ELLs for whom achievement or content measures are not valid indicators of the students’ true accomplishments. So let’s take a retrospective glance at the year to ascertain what we can glean about ELL performance.

Revisiting the Year

The beginning of each school year is always marked by initial assessment to gather baseline data for placement purposes. For ELLs it is critical that the data are contextualized to better understand who the students are, what they can do, and how they might set academic goals. These contextual variables include the: 1.) educational experiences, language proficiencies, and achievement of individual students in their home language and in English, 2.) instructional models, languages, and amount of language support provided, and 3.) qualifications and advocacy of teachers with whom ELLs interact.

Throughout the year, school leaders and teachers have to be aware of the purposes for assessment and how each contributes data to make decisions, form portraits of students, and promote teaching and learning. The lion’s share of information goes to monitoring ELLs’ progress in language development and achievement. Here is where our attention to assessment of learning (i.e., standardized measures) is minimized and assessment for learning comes into play. Whereas assessment of learning is generally outside the control of classroom teachers, assessment for learning is teacher-guided and internal to the instructional cycle.

Let’s center our attention on common assessment that is crafted by teachers and used across grade-level classrooms at the completion of each unit of learning. In integrating content and language, one standards-referenced rubric with features of language development alongside corresponding concepts and skills can capture ELL performance over time. Collaboration among teachers in planning assessment and maintaining inter-rater reliability of student work helps assure that ELLs are advancing their language proficiency in tandem with achievement. Equally important is that schools devise management systems to store these data electronically in student portfolios from year to year.

Looking Ahead

As one year comes to a close, it’s time to begin preparation for the upcoming one. The following checklist offers steps for gearing up for common assessment by teacher teams. Check to see which steps are already in place in your school, those which may need some refinement, or ones which are to be built from scratch. Even better, perhaps the assessment for achievement is already in place and all that is needed is a language overlay to better represent ELLs.

A Common Assessment Checklist for Teachers and School Leaders of ELLs

1. We select grade-level teams of language and content teachers for the year.

2.  We choose content standards and pair them with language standards for our units of learning.

3.  We create learning targets for content and language for each unit.
4. We plan common performance assessment for each unit.
5. We determine the academic language of the standards and instructional materials for each unit.
6. We craft or revisit end-of-unit products, projects or performances.


7. We formulate differentiated language and content objectives for lessons in the unit.
8. We extend differentiation of instruction into assessment.
9. We score each common assessment together and enter the data in our system.
10. We use the results to improve our teaching and for local accountability.

Click here to download this checklist for your own use.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of teachers and teacher leaders to bridge instruction and assessment so that the results are meaningful, relevant, and valid for ELLs. In that way, we are on the pathway to ensure educational equity for all students.

Written by

Margo Gottlieb, Ph.D., is Lead Developer of WIDA, a consortium of 39 state education agencies and 200 international schools, housed at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Earlier this year, Margo was honored by TESOL International Association “as an individual who has made a significant contribution to the TESOL profession within the past 50 years.”

Margo is author of Assessing English Language Learners: Bridges to Educational Equity (2nd Edition) and co-author of the Corwin series Academic Language in Diverse Classrooms with separate volumes for English Language Arts, Mathematics, Definitions and Contexts for Grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. She can be contacted at

Latest comment

  • Dear Ms. Gottlieb: I trust that this finds you well on the way to enjoy a restful and enjoyable summer.

    I have been working as a substitute educator for the Los Angeles Unified School District and am hoping to again begin my career as an adult ESL instructor. I am a grant developer and am very interested in development of grants for programs to teach adult education. I would welcome any guidance you could share with me in this endeavor. I am also credentialed in Career & Technology education and hope to write and develop grants for our most disadvantaged large immigrant populations here in the City of Angeles. My professional websites: and
    If you might know of any TESOL positions available in the Chicago area please let me know. Thank you again.

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