A? B? C? Assigning Meaningful Grades for ELLs


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This research-oriented presentation summarizes current best practices in grading, emphasizes why these practices are essential (especially for ELLs), and provides recommendations for teachers to help them avoid common pitfalls in grading while adopting policies and procedures that will increase motivation and encourage academic success in their ELLs.

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  • Preface: This presentation does not provide answers. It asks questions and suggests possible solutions. The area of grading – for all students – is murky and there is by no means consensus in various issues. Kent County, MD – 84 ESOL (PK-12), less than 4% of total population (2,200). Kent is MD’s smallest county, with 1 hs, 1 ms, and 5 es. Four full-time ESOL teachers cover all students and buildings. Two daily ESOL classes, but mostly pull-out and push-in. 30 min. 3x/wk to 90 min daily.
  • One Kent student: “I can’t give my ESOL students anything but Ds and Fs because they can’t demonstrate mastery of standards as well as the other students.”
  • This is not a discussion of differentiated instruction – just what we do when we need to take our assessment data and knowledge and report a grade.
  • These researchers stress that it is very important to explain these grading policies to parents and other stakeholders
  • These notations give teachers “permission” to give ELLs a high grade without being “unfair” to their native speakers.
  • Example – a new ninth grader from Guatemala with no English and a 5 th grade education in his country will be graded on modified standards – 5 th grade math standards and vocabulary, etc.
  • NOTE: An ELL with accommodations only (no curricular modifications) CANNOT have this noted on transcripts.
  • A? B? C? Assigning Meaningful Grades for ELLs

    1. 1. A? B? C? Assigning Meaningful Grades for ELLs Terry Waldspurger TESOL Convention Philadelphia, PA March 30, 2012twaldspurger@kent.k12.md.us
    2. 2. Grades are Here to Stay  “There is no doubt that our society believes in grades. We look for four-star movies, five- star restaurants, top-10 colleges, and even Grade A eggs.” – (Scherer, 2011, p. 7)
    3. 3. The Culture of Grades  Organizations expect teachers to evaluate multiple areas of a student’s learning and performance and fairly synthesize them into one meaningful, understandable value for a report card  Over 90% of US schools use some kind of A-F grading scale  Only 1% do not use grades at all  Grades are taken seriously by parents, administrators, colleges
    4. 4. The Culture of Grades  Grades carry consequences and expectations  Poor grades can have lasting negative effects – Promotion and retention – G/T, STEM, AP, honors – Sports and extracurricular activities – College admissions and placement
    5. 5. Grading is Often Inconsistent  Despite importance of grades, inconsistencies cause inequity and failure for many, including ELLs  Grading is one of the last bastions of teacher power and control – Teachers determine what and how they grade, often including the grading scale – Studies show that even teachers in the same buildings interpret/assign grades differently despite school grading policy – (Reeves, 2008, Seeley, 1994)
    6. 6. Teachers are Conflicted  Teachers need to enforce rigor of content standards  Teachers need to ensure that their students are passing state tests  Teachers need to assign grades  How can teachers assess and grade ELLs and still be able to hold them to the same learning standards as other students?
    7. 7. Grading is Frustrating  “I just hate grades. They are very discouraging to our children. The ones who get A’s, get A’s. Some kids come to school every day – in our community that’s really wonderful – yet they get F’s. I give them F’s, because that’s what they earn, I guess. That’s the system.” – (Seeley, 1994, p. 5)
    8. 8. Teachers are Busy  Teachers have a myriad of responsibilities built into their days -- how can they also accommodate all their special populations?  How can teachers find the time to create and grade multiple assessments that allow ELLs to show mastery of content despite lower English proficiency levels?
    9. 9. Teachers and Time  “I’m sure I’m not the only one…but 9 of my ELLs are placed in a class of 23 native speakers and 4 of my ELLs are in a class of 28 native speakers. Most of my ELLs are at a Level 2, but I do have some Level 1 students as well. Our 40-minute classes leave me with little time to deal with the issues of the native speakers, let alone to work on special assessments for my ELLs.” – (Pawan and Craig, 2011, p. 306)
    10. 10. Teachers are Confused  Teachers are often unaware of (or disregard) organizational grading policies  Teachers receive little if any professional development in converting classroom assessments into grades  Teachers who effectively differentiate instruction/assessment do not know how to assign grades based on these “adapted” scores
    11. 11. Where Do ELLs Fit In?  Many educators believe that report card grades should measure only one aspect: mastery of grade-level, content standards – (Marzano, 2000, Reeves, 2008)  What do teachers do, then, when an ELL can’t demonstrate grade-level “mastery” based on her English proficiency level?
    12. 12. The Many Facets of Grades  Teachers enjoy special relationships with their students and see more than just numbers – Attitude, motivation, effort, participation – Special circumstances (poverty, proficiency level, disability)  It is often difficult for teachers to separate “product” from “process”  Grades often reflect “justice tempered with mercy” – (Seeley, 1994, p. 5)
    13. 13. Research on Grades  Reeves, 2008: The single most important change that would immediately reduce student failures in a school is to change the grading policy  The difference between failure and honor roll can often be attributed to the way a teacher grades
    14. 14. Toxic Grading Practices  Assigning zero’s for missing/late work (especially on a 100 pt. scale) – Averages tumble – Work remains undone (so student has no chance to learn) – ELLs often can’t complete assignments accurately or in a timely manner  The appropriate response for missing work is to complete it! – Use recess, lunch, before/after school
    15. 15. Toxic Grading Practices  Using grades as either motivation or punishment – High grades do not motivate students to work harder (often the opposite is true)  Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation  Teachers should foster intrinsic motivation – Low grades do not motivate failing students to try harder  Students see no point in working hard if they are doomed to failure
    16. 16. Toxic Grading Practices  Averaging all scores equally throughout a marking period – Allow more recent grades to replace (not average with) older grades – Students who begin at different levels can all eventually earn the same final (and high) grade – This would benefit ELLs, who are also struggling with language and need to be measured over time
    17. 17. Toxic Grading Practices  Too many small, insignificant grades (busy work, homework, group work) pull down summative averages (leading to grade inflation or failure)  Some believe that homework should never be graded (feedback only)  Too few summative grades can ruin a final grade – No single assessment can be perfectly valid/reliable; effective accountability requires multiple measures
    18. 18. Grading Research  A report card grade should consist only of summative, individual, performance-based work that is standards-based  Grades should never be based on personal or behavioral factors  A benefit of more valid, reliable grading: students develop a higher motivation to learn – (McTighe & O’Connor, 2005)
    19. 19. Grading ELLs  “If they (ELLs) are not proficient in English, all the types of assessment in the world are not going to put them on equal footing with native speakers. This seems like a no-win situation for the students.” – (Pawan & Craig, 2011, p. 305)  This is often a “no-win” for teachers as well
    20. 20. ELLs can not be comparedwith non-ELLs  “Traditional grading does not work for assessing the academic learning of Limited English Proficient students.” – Solis, 2005  “Fairness does not exist when assessment is uniform, standardized, impersonal, and absolute. Rather, it exists when assessment is appropriate…” – Indiana Department of Education, 2005
    21. 21. Equality vs. Equity  Equality: – Absolute – Normed (on the curve) – Standardized – Same for all  Equitable – Fair opportunities for all – Accommodating/modified – Individualized
    22. 22. What is Not Equitable  Assigning lower grades based solely on English proficiency level  Giving low grades to punish/motivate lower performing students  Using grades to rank and/or differentiate student abilities  Grading on the curve  Continuing flawed policies because “we’ve always done it this way”
    23. 23. A Quandary for Teachers  Assigning a low or even failing grade to an ELL for not mastering course content based on a lower language proficiency level is inherently unfair.  However, if ELLs cannot demonstrate mastery as well as a native speaker, teachers often feel they can’t assign them an equally high grade
    24. 24. Where is the Balance?  “I asked an administrator one time if I should flunk all of my ESL students because they did not meet the requirements of the 10th grade curriculum, and he told me, ‘You must judge them on what they CAN do.’” – (Pawan & Craig, 2011, p. 305)
    25. 25. Finding the Balance  How do teachers find the balance between fairness and validity?  We can’t assign low grades based on proficiency level  However, neither can we “pass” a student who has not met content standards  We must provide access to same content while supporting instruction at the ELL’s current proficiency level
    26. 26. Lussi, 2010, p. 4  Giving an ELL an “A” for completing a graphic organizer while the native speakers are writing essays is fair!  “Fair means giving the student what he/she needs so they will have the same opportunity as any other student to succeed…although the assignment may be perceived as ‘easier,’ the ELL student is already doing double the work” (learning both content and language)
    27. 27. Grading Tips for ELLs  Assess in a variety of modalities based on student strengths – (listening, speaking, reading, writing)  Utilize rubrics and performance- based assessments  Do not grade language – Ignore/forgive spelling, grammar, vocabulary gaps  Allow more time, grade recouping – No zero’s for late/missing work
    28. 28. Grading Tips for ELLs  Give ELLs choices in what they can do to demonstrate learning  Provide timely, specific, understandable feedback that an ELL can use to improve  Allow assessment in native language if possible, appropriate  Explain passing criteria in advance and show examples of excellent and weak work
    29. 29. ELL Grading Systems  No grade given -- for newly arrived students who know no English  Narrative assessments only  (P)ass, (F)ail, (HP) High Pass – Includes effort, language growth, and content standard mastery measured at the level of language proficiency – Students can fail if they make no effort to do any work, do not cooperate, do not ask for help
    30. 30. Grading Systems  Tomlinson, 2001: For ELLs, a superscript appears next to each “traditional” grade – 1 – above grade level – 2 – at grade level – 3 – below grade level – For example, A3 indicates student is earning an A in progress, etc., but is not yet on grade level
    31. 31. Grading Systems  Assign multiple grades per class  Tomlinson, 2001: Two grades – Traditional, standards-based (e.g. D) – Personal, effort, progress, growth in linguistic and content goals (e.g. B)  Jung & Guskey, 2010: Three grades – Product (standards-based) – Process (effort/motivation/participation) – Progress (improvement over time) – Multiple grades are easier for teachers
    32. 32. ELL Grading Sytems  Students in an ELL program who are receiving instructional support and/or accommodations have a comment or notation on their report cards indicating such: – “Student enrolled in ESL, no grade given (narrative only)” – “ESL Adapted Instruction” – “ESOL Student receiving instructional and/or assessment accommodations”
    33. 33. Jung & Guskey, 2010  For each ELL, determine the following: – Is content mastery achievable without accommodations or modifications?  If yes, no grading changes or notations are necessary – Is content mastery only achievable with accommodations or modifications?
    34. 34. Jung & Guskey, 2010  Accommodations only – (extra time, read aloud, bilingual dictionary, responding orally, etc.)  Attempting to “level the playing field” – Standards remain the same but the method(s) for demonstrating mastery is adjusted – Provide accommodations but no change in grading process necessary – Possible report card notation noting accommdations
    35. 35. Jung & Guskey, 2010  Modifications – content standards are changed, adapted, simplified based on linguistic level and/or content gaps  New 7th grade ELL with no English being taught 4th-5th grade science vocabulary  If modifications needed, determine appropriate adapted standards  E.g., 4th grade science for 7th grader  Teach/assess student and report grades on modified standards only
    36. 36. Jung & Guskey, 2010  For any reporting changes made, always communicate grades’ meaning to parents and other stakeholders  Add notation to grade or report card  For example, a footnote stating, “Grade(s) based on modified standards”  Narrative could be attached
    37. 37. A Note on Legality  According to USDE’s Office of Civil Rights (2008)  It is legal to report ELL status and/or accommodation/modification adaptations on a report card, but not on transcripts  If grade-level standards are fundamentally modified, these can be legally noted on transcripts
    38. 38. Some Final Thoughts  Whatever grading system is used: – It needs to be based on clearly articulated and accepted policies – It needs to be adopted and used by all teachers – It needs to be explained to all stakeholders  ELLs should be graded on growth and progress as well as mastery of standards