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Attachment 1


Learning Outcomes By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

• Describe the importance and challenges of appropriately evaluating ELLs and why it takes a team to identify the problems.

• Dispel myths and discuss likely reasons why ELLs are often misidentified as having communication disor- ders or learning disabilities.

• Explain how to recognize gifted ELLs and adapt instruction to realize and develop their abilities.

• Describe the importance and process of pre-referral interventions.

9Learners with Special Needs

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Introduction English language learners tend to be overrepresented in special education programs for students with disabilities and underrepresented in programs for the gifted. Many factors contribute to the disproportionate representation, ranging from imprecise or conflicting fed- eral regulations to unconscious bias and inappropriate assessment. The most fundamental one, however, is that many professionals have an inadequate understanding of second lan- guage acquisition and confuse typical developmental “errors” with those caused by language impairment or learning disability. In this chapter we begin with the distinction between developmental language, or language-in-process, on the one hand, and specific language impairments (SLI) and learning disabilities on the other. Wrongly diagnosing ELLs can have a negative impact on academic achievement as well as negative social consequences (see Why Getting it Right Matters.) Thus, it is very important that when professionals refer ELLs for special education, they do so with a high degree of certainty. We turn, then, to the pre-referral process, which involves assessment, multiple levels of intervention, and regular progress monitoring designed to confirm that observed behavior affects both languages and is not caused or exacerbated by inadequate instruction. The goal is to ensure that by the time a dual language learner is referred to special education, every effort has made, every possible opportunity created, for her to succeed.

Why Getting it Right Matters Ms. Hayward put down the pencil she had been using to mark her sixth grade students’ social studies test. It was clear that Max hadn’t understood most of the questions. Here it was February, and his reading comprehension hadn’t improved much since she first met him in Sep- tember. She hadn’t been able to have his reading ability tested in his home language, Serbian, but his family insisted that he had been reading when they left the country two years earlier. Ms. Hayward had worked with him on the English alphabet, which he’d picked up quickly enough, and his word identification skills were excellent. He was also good in math. Although Max didn’t say much in class, she had heard him on the soccer field with his classmates, and he was communicating pretty well. But he struggled with reading, whatever the language. Should she send him for a special education assessment, she wondered. What harm could it do?

The answer to Ms. Hayward’s question is that it could potentially do a great deal of harm for many reasons:

• once students begin to receive special education services, they tend to remain in those classes;

• special education classes tend to be based on a less demanding and more limited curriculum;

• there is a danger of a double stigma because both ELLs and special needs students are more likely socially stigmatized. Lower expectations of special needs students often lead to diminished academic achievement. Segregation from academically able peers impedes language development, academic development, and social development; and

• inappropriate placement can be directly harmful; a study in 1986 showed that Spanish- speaking ELLs in special education classes showed no academic improvement and some scored lower on IQ tests after three years (Harry & Klingner, 2006; Ralabate, 2007; Donovan & Cross, 2002; Wilkinson & Oritz, 1986).

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

At the other end of the spectrum of learners with special needs are gifted students. Although the consequences of failing to identify gifted ELLs correctly may be less dramatic—they are less likely to drop out of school than ELLs wrongly assigned to special education, for example—they are significant. The purpose of schooling is to help students to realize their potential to the fullest possible extent, and if ELLs who should be in gifted programs are not, the school has not done its job. This chapter concludes with a discussion about and some pointers for accommodating diverse languages, diverse abilities, and diverse needs, within the mainstream classroom.

9.1 Difference or Disorder? As we have seen in previous chapters, although second language learning follows a fairly predictable path, there is a great deal of variability among individual learners—some learn faster than others, some exhibit a long silent period, while others begin to speak immediately. Generally speaking, there is also a great deal of commonality that characterizes the process. Sometimes dual language children have language impairment or learning disabilities, and it can be challenging to determine whether one of these is the cause of the difficulties a dual language learner is experiencing or whether they are simply manifestations of a developmen- tal stage. Disabilities are broadly classified as either low-incidence or high-incidence. In the low-incidence category are those rare conditions—severe mental retardation, blindness, cerebral palsy, and complex health issues, among others—which are normally diagnosed by teams of medical personnel and which are generally found in 1% or less of the school popu- lation at any given time. The high-incidence category includes specific learning disabilities, speech/language impairments, emotional or behavioral disorders, as well as mild to moder- ate mental retardation. Although all are important, we will focus our attention on specific learning disabilities, and especially language and reading impairment, because more confu- sion surrounds the cause of these disorders in dual language learners.

Specific Learning Disability The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) counts among specific learn- ing disabilities (SLD) conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia that do not result from hearing or motor disabilities, “mental retardation” (previously referred to as intellectual disability), emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (IDEA, 2004). The most recent additions to the law include an attempt to be more specific by stating that a student is considered to have a learning disability if:

The child does not achieve adequately for the child’s age or to meet state approved grade level standards in one or more of the following areas, when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the child’s age or state approved grade level standards:

• oral expression, • listening comprehension, • written expression, • basic reading skills,

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

• reading fluency skills, • reading comprehension, • mathematics calculation, and • mathematics problem solving. (U.S. Department of Education, 2006)

Six of the eight behaviors involve language and reading, and so the two most common forms of specific learning disorder are language impairment and reading impairment. Because of their high frequency of occurrence in general and because ELLs are more likely to be identi- fied as having them, language and reading impairment will be discussed separately.

Language Impairment With children acquiring their first language or two languages simultaneously, there are devel- opmental milestones by which we can judge whether there is an atypical language delay that may be a symptom of a more significant disability. If a child, by the age of five, is not able to name some colors or is not asking or answering who, what, and where questions, for example, there might be some cause for concern because children normally acquire these abilities by age three or four. It is possible, however, that the child is merely experiencing language delay, meaning that development is following a normal course but at a slower pace. Most children with delayed language development will have caught up, or nearly so, by the time they reach kindergarten; in elementary school, children who have experienced language delay as very young children are indistinguishable from their unaffected peers (Paradis, Genessee & Crago, 2011, p. 200).

A delay in speech is not in itself cause for concern, although children with specific language impairment will typically be language delayed as well. Specific language impairment (SLI), also called developmental language disorder, is a communication disorder such as stut- tering, impaired articulation, a language or voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s learning, not caused by hearing loss or other developmental delays.

Children with SLI start out with language delays, but their difficulties and pro- tracted development of language extend into the school-age years and possi- bly never completely resolve over time, although they can come close to their unaffected peers for some language abilities by the end of elementary school. (Paradis, Genessee & Crago, 2011, p. 200)

Children with true SLI may not exhibit impairment with all domains of language, but they typically exhibit deficits in one or more aspects of language processing, and are unlikely to achieve the same ability levels as their unaffected peers. Some characteristics of SLI include:

• SLI affects between 7% and 8% of children in kindergarten; • SLI consists of persistent language problems in the absence of other cognitive or

physical problems, although some children with SLI may also have mild cognitive deficits;

• between the ages of four and seven, children with SLI will exhibit significant general language delays such as vocabulary size and sentence length, as well as more pro- found specific language delays such as difficulty with verbs, especially regular and irregular past tense forms and verb endings;

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

• the impact of SLI usually persists into adulthood; • the cause of SLI is unknown, but there is evidence of a strong genetic link; between

50% and 70% of children with SLI have parents or siblings with SLI or significant delays in speaking; and

• children with SLI are at greater risk for reading problems (Paradis, Genessee & Crago, 2011; Piper, 2007).

There are four types of specific language disorder:

1. voice disorders affect voice quality and are not temporary; 2. fluency disorders affect the rate, rhythm, and the continuity of speech. The most

common of these is stuttering. Less common is cluttering, characterized by exces- sively rapid speech which significantly disrupts the flow of speech;

3. articulation disorders comprise a wide range of disorders ranging from persistent difficulties with a particular sound that have little impact on intelligibility, to severely impaired phonological systems that render the speaker incomprehen- sible; and

4. language processing disorders are those afflictions that do not fit into any of the other three categories but which represent systematic deviations in speech, reading, writing, or signing that interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate with their peers (Piper, 2007, p. 199).

Dual language learners are susceptible to any of these disorders, though no more so than the monolingual population, but particular care must be taken to ensure that any variations from the norm are attributable to communicative disorders and not simply communicative differ- ences associated with the learner’s home language or culture.

Language Impairment in Dual Language Learners With imperfect mastery of the language, some ELLs will exhibit communicative differences, some- times quite marked, but these are developmental; they will disappear as the learner becomes more proficient with the language. Recognizing the difference between a language impairment and a developmental delay or difference requires some understanding of the nor- mal course of second language develop- ment as well as some knowledge about how language impairments are manifest in dual language children. What, then, are the characteristics of dual language children with language impairment?

Simultaneous Bilinguals As we learned in Chapter 3, children may acquire their two languages simul- taneously or in succession. Although there will be some variability among individual children’s proficiency in either category, there will generally be

Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Thinkstock

Early detection of hearing loss can help to prevent language delay and learning problems that result in reduced academic achievement.

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

little variability among normally developing simultaneously bilingual children by the time they reach school. Normally developing simultaneous bilinguals bear strong resemblance to monolinguals in many aspects of development, although there are minor differences.

Researchers have asked whether bilingual children with language impairments exhibit the same symptoms and follow the same course of development as monolingual children with SLI. Paradis and her colleagues addressed the question “What happens to the language devel- opment of simultaneous bilingual children who are later diagnosed with SLI?” (Paradis, Genessee & Crago, 2011, p. 203). Studying a group of French/English bilingual seven-year- olds who had been diagnosed with SLI after the age of four, these researchers found that the bilingual children had significant problems with verb forms in both languages, but they were essentially the same problems experienced by monolinguals with SLI. All of the children in the study were below age expectation in language development in both of their languages, had nonverbal IQ scores in the normal range, and had no history of neurological trauma. The MLU (mean length of utterance) in the bilingual SLI children was shorter in both languages than unaffected French or English monolinguals, but it was the same as monolinguals with SLI. They also found that the children used the appropriate language for the person or occa- sion and that evidence of code mixing was essentially the same as bilinguals without SLI. In other words, there was nothing to differentiate bilingual and monolingual children with SLI (Paradis, Genesssee & Crago, 2011, p. 203). These results have been confirmed by research- ers studying Spanish/English bilinguals in California (Guitiérrez-Clellen, et al., 2008). The evidence, then, is that dual language children who learned both languages from infancy will follow the same course of development as monolingual SLI children.

Successive Bilinguals (ELLs) Two questions are of concern with learners who are not bilingual from birth but who add a second language during the school years, that is, the majority of ELLs teachers encounter. The first is whether there are differences in language development between these learners with SLI and monolingual English speakers with SLI. The second is what impact SLI might have on the acquisition of English. Remembering that monolingual children with SLI are delayed in acquiring language and later develop more profound delays, the question arises whether dual language learners with SLI also experience developmental delays in the second language— English. Although there is no large body of research examining these precise questions, the available research is strongly supportive of the position that English language development proceeds in much the same way for children with SLI, whether English is the first or second language (Paradis, Genessee, & Crago, 2011; Rothweiler, Chilla & Clahsen, 2009). Neverthe- less, because research is limited, it is important to remember that many external factors and individual differences contribute to the speed and ease with which ELLs acquire English; the fact that many bilingual children with SLI have demonstrated patterns of development consistent with monolingual children with SLI does not mean that the same success will be achieved by all bilinguals in all settings. Each learner must be evaluated and monitored indi- vidually. In A Teacher’s Story: Miguel, second grade teacher Margo Leisey recounts the case of an at-risk child named Miguel who was struggling with English for reasons that were some- what unusual.

Children such as Miguel can be helped with specially designed instruction and regular moni- toring. The plan for Miguel was to spend half an hour each morning and another half hour in the afternoon with a special education teacher who would coordinate with Ms. Leisey;

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

both teachers would carefully monitor his language. A few weeks after the plan was put into action, Ms. Leisey had a visit from Miguel’s mother, described in A Teacher’s Story: A Tough Question.

Margot Leisey’s exchange with Miguel’s mother raises an important question about SLI in bilinguals. In asking whether she should switch to English with her son, she is asking the larger question: Do bilingual children with SLI benefit from maintaining the minority lan- guage the same as unaffected bilingual children do? Research indicates that they do, and that

A Teacher’s Story: Miguel

Miguel had been in our school since kindergarten, and he’d struggled with English from the beginning. He came from a bilingual home—his father spoke Spanish and his mother Portu- guese—and the family was one of only eight or nine non-English speaking families in the small city where we all lived. He was one of only three ELLs in his kindergarten class and he lagged significantly behind them, but his kindergarten teacher attributed it to the fact that English was his third language and thought that he was just experiencing a delay. He had made some progress in first grade; his teacher, Mr. Carlton, said that by the end of the year he could name the letters of the alphabet, although he could not recite them in order, and he could identify only a few very common words. He could write his name, but the “g” looked like a “q” and he occasionally made a “W” instead of an “M.” He also seemed inattentive and sometimes slow to react. The language barrier made it hard to get reliable information from the parents about Miguel’s language development at home since they were just learning English themselves. Mr. Carlton suspected dyslexia or a cognitive disorder, so he requested a formal evaluation. Shortly after the school year started, I was able to talk to the speech-language pathologist who had led the three-person team that conducted the assessment.

The pathologist spoke Spanish and had a Portuguese interpreter present. She interviewed the parents about Miguel’s language development and was assured that his Spanish and Portuguese were “just fine.” When pressed via the interpreter, his mother said that he still had some problems with some of the verbs in Portuguese and he confused expressions of time— yesterday, tomorrow, today—in English. She also said that she thought he had the same problems in Spanish; the father said he didn’t know. On behalf of the speech-language patholo- gist, the interpreter asked the mother when Miguel had begun to speak. The mother replied that he didn’t say much until he was “three or so.” She quickly added that she was sure that was because he heard two languages instead of one. When asked whether he ever confused the two languages, the mother said, “A little, but then so do I.” When asked what Miguel’s dominant language was, his mother said she really didn’t know. She thought he was “about the same” in both languages. The parents reported that they read to Miguel every night and that he liked to look at the pictures in his books but had not shown much interest in reading. After testing him in English and in Spanish, the pathologist reported that he had specific language impairment, and her prognosis was that he would make progress, with the right kind of help, but he would probably never catch up linguistically to his peer group. She also reported that he was good with number concepts when using manipulatives, and that she wasn’t certain but thought he had perfect pitch—she said I should have him sing for me because he had a beautiful voice. Mr. Carlton hadn’t mentioned Miguel’s singing, but he had shown me some of his drawings, which were very good and very colorful. I was nervous about how to proceed with Miguel, but I was also relieved to have a diagnosis and the assurance of the pathologist that her team would be available to help Miguel (and me!).

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

abandoning the home language(s) does not benefit, and could be harmful to the child. After doing an extensive review of the research literature, Paradis, Genessee & Crago found “there is no evidence for thinking that dual language learning is a risk factor for children with lan- guage delay or impairment and, in turn, there is no basis in evidence for counseling parents to switch to one language at home . . . .” (p. 208). The best advice to Miguel’s distraught mother would be to continue to use the languages they have always used at home and also to continue reading to him and encouraging his efforts. Miguel was already off to a slow start with read- ing, and research has shown that many children with SLI will also have reading problems, sometimes serious.

Internationally Adopted Children Children who are adopted from other countries may be very different from the successive and simultaneous bilinguals that make up the majority of our ELL classes. If children are adopted into an English-speaking family as infants, they will in all likelihood have acquired English and will resemble other ELLs who have learned English from a very young age—with one important distinction: Their first language will almost always have stopped with their adoption. Some American adoptive parents do make an attempt for their children to relearn the language of their birth, but this happens necessarily at a later age, and it is the exception rather than the rule.

Most international adoptees are older, if for no other reason than the government legalities and procedures in the United States and the other country involved, which can extend the process of adoption for several years. Children who are adopted at an older age are more likely to have lived in an institution, sometimes for an extended period of time, to have limited or no formal education, and, like the infants who were adopted, will lose the opportunity to function in their first language abruptly upon adoption. Unable to use their first language, not yet proficient in English, and with a great deal of academic catch-up to do, these learners are at high risk for failure. They are also more likely than the general ELL population to have learning disabilities because they are more likely to have been raised in orphanages. Research

A Teacher’s Story: A Tough Question

Miguel’s mother arrived in my classroom after school one day with an interpreter. I could see that she was upset and I tried to put her at ease by telling her that we were pleased by Miguel’s progress. The interpreter translated but she remained upset. The interpreter explained that Miguel’s mother was worried about her son because he wouldn’t speak to her in Portuguese any more. He would only speak English and she was worried because she didn’t know much English. She said she was “studying hard” to learn more English so she could help him. She was convinced, the interpreter said, that his problem was caused by having to speak too many languages, and since he had to go to school in English, she wanted to speak English, too, but she was frustrated because it was hard for her. She thought she might be faster at learning more Spanish and wanted to know if it would help Miguel if they spoke Spanish at home but no Portuguese. I felt her pain, and at that point I had to admit to myself that I really didn’t have a good answer. I did remember reading that children sometimes stopped speaking their home language for a time, and I told her this. What I really wanted to say was “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

on 3,800 children in 19 countries indicated that children raised in orphanages have an IQ 20 points lower than peer age children raised in foster care (van Ljzendoorn, Luijk, & Juffer, 2008). Although the number of children adopted from other countries has decreased in the last decade (Swarns, 2013), thousands still arrive each year, and they will need special atten- tion (see A Snapshot of Internationally Adopted Children).

Reading Impairments and SRI There are many different types of reading impairments and many different causes. For our discussion, it is necessary to distinguish two broad categories of reading disorder:

1. Acquired reading impairment refers to reading problems that result from imper- fect mastery of the language, a different alphabet in the home language, low expo- sure to reading, and inadequate instruction, to name a few.

2. Specific reading impairment (SRI) affects children with normal intelligence and visual-auditory abilities, adequate learning opportunities, and the absence of neu- rological and psychological problems. Between 5% and 20% of U.S. school children are affected. For dual language learners with SRI, the condition will impact both languages, although not necessarily to the same extent (Paradis, Genessee & Crago, 2011, p. 21).

A Snapshot of Internationally Adopted Children Internationally adopted children are a unique subset of the ELL population in schools, and they are more likely to require special attention and even special education services.

• Most internationally adopted children in the United States are from China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (U.S. State Department, Bureau of Consular Affairs, 2014)

• After several decades of steady growth, the rate of international adoption has been declining since 2004 (Voight & Brown, 2013).

• An important difference between these children and other ELLs is that, prior to adop- tion these children learn a first language, but in most cases their learning and use of that language is prematurely halted when they are adopted.

• The first language is lost very quickly. Russian children adopted between the ages of four and eight typically lose their expressive use of that language within three to six months of adoption, and all functional use of the language within a year (Glennen, 2012)

• Interrupted first language learning is known as arrested language development. • Loss of the first language before the second language is firmly established leaves them

without a functional language. Unlike the bilingual child who has a functioning first lan- guage to fall back on, the internationally adopted child may have very little language in which to communicate.

• Some school districts do not count these children as ELLs, claiming that they are not truly bilingual because of their first language deficiencies, and label them as learning disabled instead.

• Most students adopted at older ages will need many years to acquire full proficiency in English and will require more support than other ELLs to keep from falling behind academically.

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Section 9.1 Difference or Disorder?

Table 9.1: Signs of possible learning, language, and reading impairments at different ages

Age Signs and symptoms Possibility of SLD (other than SLI or SRI)

Possibility of SLI or SRI

Risk of confusing with L2 develop- mental difference

Preschool Problems pronouncing words

Unknown Yes High

Difficulty rhyming Unknown Yes Low

Trouble learning alphabet Yes Yes Moderate (higher if L1 uses different alphabet)

Trouble finding appropri- ate word

Yes Yes High

Difficulty following direc- tions or learning routines

Yes Unknown Moderate to high

Difficulty controlling cray- ons, pencils, scissors

Attachment 2


Learning Outcomes By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

1. Analyze the importance of reading to academic success.

2. Summarize the reading process from decoding through comprehension.

3. Demonstrate how to make use of ELLs’ existing knowledge and skills in literacy using methods of instructional scaffolding.

4. Define content-area literacy and describe the language elements that ELLs need to acquire if they are to meet Common Core State Standards.

5. Explicate the principles that determine how communicative approaches to teaching are imple- mented in methods for teaching reading to ELLs.

6Learn to Read, Read to Learn






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Section 6.1 Why Reading Matters

Introduction Fifty years ago, many Americans learned French or Spanish or German by translating text. Although it was not an effective way to learn conversational skills or even writing skills, many did acquire a “reading knowledge” of the language. Today ELLs are in a very different situa- tion. They need to acquire both social and cognitive/academic language abilities. Although they might be able to rely on oral language skills for many social situations, oral language ability is not sufficient for academic purposes. Moreover, a “reading knowledge” is precisely what many are lacking. It is usually the failure to acquire adequate literacy skills that causes ELLs to become long-term English language learners (Chapter 5).

Beginning with a review and further discussion of the centrality of reading to language and content learning, we delve deeper into what the process of reading entails. What do we know about the reading process that helps us understand the task that confronts ELLs in learning to read English? As we have seen in earlier chapters, if ELLs are able to read in their native language(s), they have a head start on learning to read in English. In this chapter we examine how teachers can take advantage of learners’ prior knowledge by using a variety of methods to build skills in English reading and writing.

In school, children learn to read so that they can read to learn. Content-area literacy, then, is not only the goal of but also a major component of reading comprehension. What is reading comprehension? Can reading and writing be taught simultaneously? Does content or aca- demic literacy differ from “other” reading and writing? If so, how is it learned?

The final section of the chapter synthesizes the different perspectives we’ve used to look at ELL literacy within the communicative approach to teaching (Chapter 4). Recognizing that there is no one method that works for all learners (or for all teachers), we conclude the chap- ter with guidelines and principles that characterize effective methods for teaching reading to ELLs.

6.1 Why Reading Matters An excellent predictor of academic success for all children is reading ability. It’s a common sense claim, but it also happens to be one supported by research. Table 6.1 summarizes some of the more significant findings of the past two decades. Although all of the studies conclude that the level of reading ability (by third grade) is a strong predictor of later academic suc- cess, another finding is somewhat more surprising. Specifically, three studies all showed that an even better predictor is math ability in kindergarten. This finding does not mean that we should abandon reading to children or that reading is not important. Rather, they were uni- fied in their results and their conclusions: Kindergarten math ability is a predictor of third grade reading ability, and it is this ability that leads to further engagement in reading, which in turn improves comprehension.

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Section 6.1 Why Reading Matters

Table 6.1: Selected research findings on the importance of early reading ability

Researchers Studied . . . And concluded that . . .

Cunningham & Stanovich (1997)

First graders followed up as 11th graders

• Early exposure to print and comprehension ability both predict the level of reading engagement in 11th grade (p. 941);

• Third grade is pivotal year. Children who lag behind in first grade but catch up by third or fifth are likely to be engaged readers in 11th grade (p. 942);

• Early success at reading acquisition is one of the keys that unlocks a lifetime of reading habits; and

• “The subsequent exercise of this habit serves to further develop reading comprehension ability . . .” (p. 943).

Hernandez (2012) 4,000 children from first grade through age 19

• Children who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers (p. 4);

• For the worst readers, those who could not master even the basic skills by third grade, the dropout rate is nearly six times greater (p. 4);

• Children with the lowest reading scores account for one-third of students, but for more than three-fifths (63%) of all children who do not graduate from high school (p. 6);

• About 33% of Hispanic students who did not achieve third grade proficiency failed to graduate on time, a rate higher than for white students with poor reading skills; but

• The ethnic gap disappears when Hispanic children do read at grade level by third grade and were not living in poverty (p. 5).

Duncan et al. (2007) Data from 35,000 children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom

• The strongest predictors of later achievement are school-entry math, reading, and attention skills (p. 1,428); and

• Early math skills had the greatest predictive power, not only of later achievement in math, but also of later achievement in reading.

Romano et al. (2010) Canadian data on 1,500 school children

• Kindergarten math skills are best predictor of reading ability in third grade (p. 995); and

• Kindergarten literacy also predicted later academic achievement.

Hooper et al. (2010) African-American and white children in the United States

• Kindergarten math skills are the best predictor of later academic achievement in both groups; and

• There are indications that early expressive language skills are important to later achievement in both reading and math (p. 1,018).

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Section 6.1 Why Reading Matters

The reason that reading is so crucial to academic achievement goes beyond the obvious fact that content learning requires reading at a high level of competence. There are long- term cognitive consequences of learning to read, and to reading, and they are significant. At the early stages of learning to read, a great deal of cognitive activity goes into decoding as readers try to figure out how the marks on the page relate to the language they know. As they become more proficient at decoding, the process becomes automated, and when this happens readers have more cognitive resources to devote to “ . . . more general language skills, such as vocabulary, background knowledge, familiarity with complex syntactic struc- tures, etc.” (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001, p. 138). The faster the process becomes auto- mated, the better, because children who struggle with decoding and word identification are exposed to less text than skilled readers, and they often find the materials too difficult for them. Their deficiencies in decoding skills, lack of reading practice, and materials that are too difficult significantly impact their ability to develop the automaticity they need to develop the higher order cognitive skills. In contrast, skilled readers acquire decoding skills very quickly, and with these “running on automatic” they can devote attention and cognitive resources to extracting meaning, increasing vocabulary, and acquiring content knowledge. It is a spiral, either upward or downward.

Because ELLs face the dual challenge of acquiring language and content area knowledge, often to catch up to their grade level, it is especially important for them to learn to read quickly and well. It is important that they learn the lower-order skills (decoding and word identification) so that they can move onto the higher order skills as soon as possible. To learn content, they need to be able to:

• understand sentence structure, • have a large vocabulary on which to draw, • understand how different kinds of writing (e.g., narrative, factual, biographical) are

structured, • comprehend ideas, • follow an argument, • understand the writer’s purpose for the text, • detect implications of the material, and • integrate what they read into their prior knowledge of the subject.

English language learners will not acquire all these skills by being left alone in the back of a classroom to figure things out or by being handed a textbook and a dictionary. The develop- ment of reading skills must hold a prominent place in instructional plans for ELLs from the beginning. The reason is simple: Academic success depends on it. Once an ELL learns to read, she can read to learn. What is needed is targeted instruction. The remainder of this chap- ter explores what teachers need to know about the reading process and how to build on a learner’s prior knowledge, about content-area reading, and about how reading instruction is implemented within a communicative approach to teaching.

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Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read? Understanding the characteristics of proficient readers is helpful for understanding the process of reading but does not constitute a road map for teaching reading (Chapter 2). Kenneth Goodman’s definition of reading helps us to understand why. Goodman, one of the preeminent researchers to study the reading process in the last several decades, defined reading as “a psycholinguistic guessing game” involving “an interaction between thought and language.”

Efficient reading does not result from precise perception and identification of all elements, but from skill in selecting the fewest, most productive clues necessary to produce guesses which are right the first time. (1976, p. 2)

Native speakers have more “clues”—their linguistic- and content knowledge—on which to base their guesses. And yet, ELLs also bring something to the task, raising the question we will address shortly: What transfers? Before attempting to answer that, however, it will be useful to consider in a little more depth what is available to transfer. In other words, what does the reading process require of the reader?

In recent decades, researchers have made progress toward understanding the cognitive pro- cesses involved in learning to read, and while the neurological and psychological bases are not yet fully understood, there appears to be agreement that there are certain necessary pro- cesses required. We know, for example, that reading begins with decoding and word identifi- cation, but also has to involve comprehension.

Decoding Humans have been speaking for tens of thousands of years. During this time, genetic changes have favored the brain’s ability to acquire and process spoken language, even setting aside specialized areas of the brain to accomplish these tasks . . . . Speaking is a normal, genetically hardwired capability; reading is not. In fact, reading is probably the most difficult task we ask the young brain to undertake. (Sousa, 2011, Ch. 4)

From birth, and possibly before, infants can distinguish speech from other sounds. Shortly after birth, they begin to comprehend that those sounds have meaning corresponding to some real-world object or event. This is the beginning of phonological awareness and it happens naturally in all hearing infants no matter what language is spoken around them. The second phase of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness, which is the under- standing that words are made up of individual sounds and that these sounds can be reor- ganized or manipulated to form new words. As soon as infants realize that the family feline is a cat, which differs from the thing that keeps their heads warm, and that neither is the

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Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

same as a cup, bowl, banana, and so on, they have begun to be aware of phonemes. The ability to isolate one sound from others in a word is another aspect of phonemic aware- ness. Early evidence of this awareness is found in children’s rhyming. Notice that so far no print is involved. ELLs with prior exposure to reading in an alphabetic language will usually have acquired both aspects of phonological awareness, and all learners will have acquired the first phase—that speech is made up of individual sounds—long before they reach school age.

The next step in learning to read is to figure out the relationship that exists between sounds and what initially appear to be squiggles on the page. Phoneme-grapheme awareness, commonly referred to as sound-symbol correspondence, is a necessary step for learning any alphabetic language. It is also used by very young Chinese children learning to read pinyin before moving on to characters. To get some idea of how difficult the task can be for young children, consider the following string of symbols:

The cat wore his hat in the heat.

Each symbol corresponds to a sound (yes, in English!). But unless you can read Wingdings, you won’t know that the sentence is represented in standard orthography, or the conven- tional spelling system, as

The cat wore his hat in the heat.

For a child encountering print for the first time, the two “sentences” are equally meaning- less, so the first task is to figure out what the squiggles mean. Those of us who already know how to read might approach the Wingdings task differently than beginners. In all likelihood we would look for patterns or repeated symbols, a or at, for example. This would be essentially a phonics approach, but it is not the only one. We could also approach the problem from a whole word recognition perspective, looking at larger chunks: the which appears twice, or cat and hat which have very similar features. However, with both approaches, without some context we have little chance of cracking the code. Once someone utters the sentence aloud, however, we can figure it out pretty quickly using either method.

It is in the sound-symbol correspondence task that different processes may be involved, depending on the language. As we saw in Chapter 2, not all languages have alphabetic writ- ing systems, and when children learn to read logographic languages, there is no sound- symbol correspondence to learn. Rather, they have to learn a different character or symbol for each word or morpheme. Chinese children normally do learn an alphabetic system initially ( pinyin), but they have to learn to recognize characters in order to become proficient readers, and processing characters is cognitively different from processing alphabet-based text. The difference is schematically shown in Figure 6.1 and Figure 6.2.

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Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness

Sound to Symbol Correspondence (Phonemes to Graphemes)

Sound to Symbol (pinyin) used in initial instruction only


/mâo/= =mâo

/kæt/= /mâo/=

/kæt/= =cat /hæt/= /hit/=



Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness

Sound to Symbol Correspondence (Phonemes to Graphemes)

Sound to Symbol (pinyin) used in initial instruction only


/mâo/= =mâo

/kæt/= /mâo/=

/kæt/= =cat /hæt/= /hit/=



Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

Figure 6.1: Learning to read: The beginning

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness

Sound to Symbol Correspondence (Phonemes to Graphemes)

Sound to Symbol (pinyin) used in initial instruction only


/mâo/= =mâo

/kæt/= /mâo/=

/kæt/= =cat /hæt/= /hit/=



Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness

Sound to Symbol Correspondence (Phonemes to Graphemes)

Sound to Symbol (pinyin) used in initial instruction only


/mâo/= =mâo

/kæt/= /mâo/=

/kæt/= =cat /hæt/= /hit/=



Figure 6.2: Learning to read: Chinese

Regardless of an individual’s native language, reading requires that the brain match symbols with sounds. To be successful, this process requires the cooperation of three neural systems, working together to decode the sound-to-symbol relationships peculiar to the language. This is not an easy skill to develop and does not occur for most people without direct instruction (Sousa, 2011, Ch. 4).

The neural systems involved are the visual processing center, the auditory processing center, and the executive system. This is how it is thought to work:

• Continuing with the examples in Figures 6.1 and 6.2, the visual processing center records the word cat and then works with the auditory processing system (Broca’s area of the brain), and the two systems together analyze the phonemes that com- prise the word.

• If the combination of phonemes exists in the mind’s lexicon (mental diction- ary), the information is moved to the executive system in the frontal lobe, which consolidates the information from the two areas as a representation of the family pet with whiskers and a long tail.

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Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

• Logographic writing systems require that the brain also activate an area of the right hemisphere associated with graphical or pictorial representations.

Taken together, these processes constitute decoding. Keep in mind that this process is only the beginning of the reading process. The brain also has to learn how to speed up or auto- mate the recognition process so that it becomes less laborious. And the next time the reader encounters the word, it is recognized without having to go through being fully processed in each area of the brain.

A Teacher’s Story: The Codebreaker

I asked to meet with Mai’s parents to discuss Mai’s lack of progress in literacy. They came, bring- ing with them one of Mai’s teenaged cousins to act as interpreter because their English was very basic. I learned that before coming to the United States, Mai’s education had been sporadic at best. The family had spent time in three different overseas camps en route to the United States. I also learned that although her parents were themselves literate, educated people, they had not taught Mai to read in Vietnamese because they were convinced that it would interfere with her ability to learn English. The interpreter also said that although there had been English classes in some of the camps, the instructors concentrated on basic spoken English.

After that meeting, I decided that Mai needed special assistance if she were ever to catch up with others in her class, and so I consulted a district reading specialist. She was overwhelmed with requests, but she sent me an intern, Casey, who worked with Mai for 40 minutes a day. I had assumed that Casey would use simplified materials, but she said that no, she would use the same materials I used in the class. One day a few weeks later, Mai held up her hand in class, volunteering to read a passage aloud from our social studies lesson. She read it almost perfectly, and I was amazed. I was even more amazed when she couldn’t answer a simple ques- tion about what she’d read. I asked her to read it again, silently, and then I asked her the same question, and again she couldn’t answer. After a few more similar incidents, I understood: Mai had mastered sound-symbol correspondence and could decode very effectively. But her com- prehension was almost entirely lacking.

Ellen’s experience with Mai in A Teacher’s Story: The Codebreaker reminds us of an obvi- ous but important fact about reading: All reading is about comprehension. Yes, decoding is important, but it is not safe to assume that because an ELL has a good command of spoken English and is able to identify and pronounce written words, that comprehension follows. In Mai’s case it had not, and it is a mistake to assume that what appears to be a neces- sary condition for reading—basic sound-symbol correspondence—is a sufficient one for reading comprehension. In fact, we know that it is not a necessary condition. Nonhearing people learn to read; proficient hearing readers understand the meanings of words they cannot pronounce; people learn to read a foreign language without knowing how to speak it or how it sounds. Nevertheless, in normal, hearing children, the easiest path to reading begins with understanding the relationship between the language they see in print and the language they hear and speak.

Mai’s story also illustrates the relationship between prior educational experience and suc- cess in academic language learning. Because her previous schooling was only sporadic, Mai likely did not have the background knowledge to make sense of the social studies

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Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

text she was reading. Proficiency in reading means that the reader can understand indi- vidual sentences and how they “fit together” in the overall structure of a piece of writing. It means that the reader can comprehend the purpose of the text and the ideas presented as well as follow the argument and understand implications. Proficiency in reading means that a reader who understands the meanings of some of the words in a text can sometimes figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words from the context provided by the known words. Perhaps most importantly, proficiency means that a reader can distinguish what is important and what is not related to the task at hand—the writer’s purpose and the reader’s purpose. In other words, reading proficiency means that a reader is able to focus on those elements that carry meaning and ignore those that do not. Consider the following pair of sentences:

He had two reasons to move to Oregon. His two reasons to move to Oregon had just evaporated.

The phrase two reasons has a different level of significance in the two contexts. In the first, the phrase signals the reader that what is coming next is very likely the identification and perhaps some explanation of the two reasons. The second sentence also demands that the reader pay attention to what comes next, but in this case, what the proficient reader expects to see is what happened, what “evaporated.” The second sentence also illustrates how a proficient reader needs to be able to work out the meaning of a familiar word used in an unfamiliar context. Learning a new meaning for a familiar word is the same as learn- ing a new word. Proficient readers increase their vocabularies by reading, which in turn makes them better readers, which in turn makes it easier for them to learn academic content.

Word Recognition Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have been able to see which parts of the brain are the most active at any particular point in time. In addition to verifying that there are three areas in the left side of the brain that are activated during read- ing, research has revealed that the left hemisphere of the reader’s brain has a dedicated area with the unique highly specialized function of recognizing whole written words. This “brain dictionary” is not something that the species evolved, but is learned in each individual (Glezer et al., 2009). If each word that a reader learns is associated with its own set of neurons, then it is possible that:

• the brain is organized in much the same way for reading alphabetic and logographic languages;

• in teaching children pinyin, the Chinese have made it easier for children to learn to read an alphabetic writing system later; and

• the initial learning processes might be even more similar than they appear in Figures 6.1 and 6.2.

Understanding what is involved in decoding and word identification, however useful, does not immediately lead us to an understanding of how comprehension develops, because com- prehension involves more than decoding, identifying and then matching the printed word to a word in the mental dictionary. Without comprehension, there is little point to any of the prior processing.

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Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

Comprehension At the heart of the matter is the question, How does the reader interact with the text to extract the writer’s intended meaning?

In order to read with clear comprehension, students also need to under- stand the words they read, construct an interpretive cognitive model of what the author is trying to say, and have the requisite background knowledge to categorize, interpret, and remember what an author is saying in relation to established facts or a field of understanding (such as a content-area subject). (Lawrence et al., 2011)

We saw in an earlier example that it is possible to “read” a passage—decoding, identifying, and correctly pronouncing most if not all words—and still have little understanding of the meaning. This is especially true for ELLs, as research has shown.

. . . by and large for language-minority children, word-level components of lit- eracy (e.g., decoding, spelling) either are or can be (with appropriate instruc- tion) at levels equal to those of their monolingual peers. However, this is not the case for text-level skills, like reading comprehension, which rarely approach the levels achieved by their monolingual peers. (August & Wan, 2007)

In the text that follows, we can see that comprehension involves much more than knowing the meanings of words.

Messy ninth end for Sweden

A measurement in Canada’s favour in the eighth end and a trio of misses by Sweden in the ninth sealed the win for Jones. In that ninth end, Sweden’s Maria Wennerstroem had her final rock pick up debris, opening up a pair of takeouts by Lawes. That, coupled with a miss by Christina Betrup, left Canada lying three with skip stones remaining. An in-turn raise by Prytz only gave Sweden second shot rock before Jones’s last shot of the end drew onto the button. Prytz’s final chance to salvage a point evaporated when her attempt to knock Canada off the button nicked her own stone in the four-foot, giving Canada a steal of two and a three-point lead heading into the final end. “Of course it’s disappointing,” Sigfridsson said. “I know we won silver, but it really just feels like we lost gold.” Canada simply ran the Swedes out of rocks in the final end, and the Canadian celebration was on. (Piercy, 2014)

How much of this did you understand? In terms of the reading process just described, how far did you get? In all likelihood, every reader knows the meaning of every word with the excep- tion of proper nouns. Some will even know that the topic is something that happened in the sport of curling. A few might understand exactly what actions were described. For many read- ers, however, the text is almost incomprehensible because we have no background knowl- edge, no experiential context upon which to reconstruct the writer’s meaning.

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Sociocultural Context

Section 6.2 What Is Involved in Learning to Read?

Reading comprehension is what hap- pens at the intersection of reader and text, within a sociocultural context, as represented in Figure 6.3. It is an active process of extraction and recon- struction of meaning. Understanding what comprehension entails means understanding first that reading is an activity that takes place when a reader encounters text, but that the process is not static—it changes as a reader gains practice and becomes more proficient and also learns to approach the read- ing of different texts in different ways.

The Reader The reader brings to the activity a wide range of capacities and abilities, knowl- edge, and experience, as well as moti- vation. Cognitive capacities include attention, memory, linguistic, and ana- lytical ability. Knowledge includes lin- guistic knowledge such as vocabulary, morphology, and sentence structure, as well as content knowledge, knowledge of how texts are structured, and some degree of awareness about what has worked in the past as a comprehension strategy. Motivation refers to the purpose for reading. If it is for pleasure, the reader will usually approach the task differently than when reading for …

Attachment 3


4Assessment and Program Options


Learning Outcomes By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

1. Articulate the principles that underlie assessment of ELLs.

2. Categorize the different types of assessment according to how they are used to identify and assess ELLs for the purpose of initial placement.

3. Describe the broad categories of program options for ELLs and the factors that influence which one a school selects.

4. Summarize what is meant by ESL instruction and compare the major approaches that have been used in the past.





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Section 4.1 Principles of Assessment

Introduction Her first day of fifth grade wasn’t Arianna’s first experience with formal education. She had been homeschooled in Serbia through third grade, and her family had moved several times during her fourth grade year. Her mother had attempted to continue educating her, but there had been so much uncertainty and disruption to the family’s life that Arianna had not spent much time on academic tasks. The family finally settled into their new U.S. home in the sum- mer and promptly enrolled Arianna in school. Somehow, Arianna had acquired some spoken English and, according to her mother’s assessment, had a good background in math as well. The first decision her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Kane, had to make was whether to keep her in the mainstream classroom or to send her to a “sheltered” classroom, or whether another option would be better for her. What he needed to learn about Arianna in order to make this choice brings us to the subject of assessment.

When an ELL first arrives at school, the first task is to figure out how proficient she is in speaking, reading, and writing English in order to place her into the appropriate program. Will she be in a mainstream classroom or will another type of placement suit her better? In either case, several options exist, all described in this chapter. Once she is placed, her progress has to be monitored closely to determine how well she is progressing, both in language and in content. Careful monitoring allows teachers to adjust their instructional plan according to the learner’s needs. The major teaching approaches that have been and are currently used are also described in this chapter.

Both placement and the monitoring of progress involve assessment, and so we begin this chapter by examining the broad issue of assessment and how it is used to make critical edu- cational decisions about ELLs. Starting with a description of the two broad categories of assessment, we continue to a discussion of which assessment tools are most useful in helping teachers determine the appropriate placement for, judge the progress of, and determine the most effective program options and instructional approaches for ELLs.

4.1 Principles of Assessment Assessing language competencies in ELLs is complicated by the fact that there are so many different purposes for assessment. As noted in Chapter 1, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires schools to “provide an annual academic assessment of English language proficiency and assure the monitoring of students’ English language development. States also must pro- vide valid and reasonable accommodations to accurately measure ELL students’ academic achievement on state content standards” (Wolf et al., 2008, pp. 1–2). Tests that are used for accountability purposes, typically standardized achievement tests, are often “developed and field tested for the mainstream student population” and “may not be sensitive enough to the needs of some subgroups of students, such as English language learners” (Abedi, 2010, p. 1). One of the problems is the confounding of content and language in the tests; ELLs may not be able to adequately demonstrate their subject-area knowledge because they lack the linguistic skills to do so. Conversely, the tests are not designed to measure language and any inference drawn about language ability from ELLs scores on them is likely to be faulty.

Even without the NCLB mandate, however, schools and teachers would need to identify and place ELLs correctly and monitor their progress. Doing so is simply sound educational

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Section 4.1 Principles of Assessment

practice. It is the job of educators to determine the initial competency of ELLs in order to place them in the correct program or classroom, and to regularly measure and monitor their progress.

It is a simple matter to determine whether a child is an ELL. If this is not readily discernible from the learner’s speech, the teacher can always ask. Nevertheless, even though they may be easy to identify, ELLs are by no means a homogeneous group. As we have seen in previous chapters, they vary according to

1. Linguistic background. Although the majority of ELLs in the United States as a whole are Spanish-speaking, there are at least 400 different native languages spoken by ELLs nationally (Educational Testing Service, 2009).

2. Different levels of proficiency in English. ELLs pass through predictable stages ( Chapter 3). Correctly identifying these stages can be a challenge, but it is important for measuring progress to be able to do so.

3. Different levels of proficiency in the home language. Not all learners come to school with the same levels of competence in their home language, whatever that language may be (Chapter 3).

4. Prior schooling in native language. Students who have learned basic skills in one language have an easier time transferring those skills to the new language and school.

5. Varying degrees of cultural adaptation to the country and the community. Culture can affect ELLs’ success in school (Chapter 2). If they have been formally educated in another country, they may experience some level of school shock in this country. Also, if the family is struggling to adapt to their new country, the children of the fam- ily may not get the support they need at home for education in English or may even bring some of their parents’ negative attitudes to the classroom.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) points out that an additional factor that may influ- ence the assessment process for ELLs is whether learners have had previous exposure to standardized testing, which is so widely used in the United States. Some will never have taken a multiple-choice test, for example, while others will not have had to respond to a short-answer or essay question, which the ETS refers to as a constructed-response question.

All these variables must be taken into account in assessing ELLs, and they add complexity to the process, whatever the purpose for the assessment and whatever form the assessment takes. These variables also inform and underpin the basic principles of assessment for ELLs:

1. Assessments should benefit students. They should, for example, provide data that inform educational decisions made for the learner.

2. Decisions that have a major impact on the learner should not be based on a single assessment instrument but on multiple forms of assessment.

3. Assessments should be tailored to the specific purpose for which they are to be used. 4. Assessments must be age- and language-appropriate. 5. School personnel should pay attention to the intended purpose of the test, as well

as to the fairness, validity, and reliability of the instrument for the population of students for which it is used. (See Validity and Reliability for a description of these constructs.)

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

4.2 Categories of Assessment The term assessment refers to many different forms of evaluation ranging from short oral or written quizzes prepared by teachers for individuals or classes to lengthy standardized tests given to large populations of students. In general terms, the two basic kinds are summative and formative, and these terms refer to a fundamental difference in the purpose for testing.

Summative evaluations are measures taken periodically to determine what students know and do not know. The most familiar type of summative evaluation used in schools in the United States is the standardized test, such as the kinds mandated and developed by state boards or departments of education. Summative evaluations can also be created and used for measur- ing particular outcomes in the schools, but generally speaking, summative assessment should be thought of as “a means to gauge, at a particular point in time, student learning . . . relative to standards” (Garrison & Ehringhaus, 2014). Although they take many forms, summative evaluations are very useful for evaluating programs and curriculum or to measure school improvement goals, but they typically “happen too far down the learning path to provide information at the classroom level and to make instructional adjustments and interventions during the learning process” (Garrison & Ehringhaus, 2014). That is the business of formative assessment.

Formative evaluations are the ongoing assessments that teachers and schools undertake to gauge the effectiveness of a lesson, assignment, or unit. Formative evaluations are less formal, usually created and designed by the teacher, and they help teachers to assess the effectiveness of student learning, evaluate learning materials, and their own effectiveness as instructors. Formative evaluation is recursive and can be thought of as part of the ongoing teaching and learning process—a tool to use in shaping and adjusting curriculum and instruction for the learner.

Although the two categories of assessment are generally regarded as distinct, there may be some overlap. For example, a test given at the end of a unit is usually given to measure stu- dents’ learning of the material in the unit before moving on to the next unit. As such, it is

Validity and Reliability Assessment is the answering of questions by collecting and analyzing data. A variety of instru- ments or tools can be used, depending on the purpose of the assessment. In all cases though, the assessment must be valid and reliable. These are terms that are often confused, but they actually answer very simple questions.

Validity answers the question “Does the test measure what it is intended to measure?”

Reliability answers the question “Can the test results be trusted to represent what they are supposed to represent?” Two versions of a standardized test should, for example, yield the same result.

A standardized test designed to assess fourth graders’ knowledge of science concepts given to ELLs with limited English would probably not be valid because it would not be clear what was being measured—English reading ability or knowledge of science. Neither of the test results could be considered reliable.

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

considered to be summative in nature. In the case of ELLs, however, the results of a unit test might be useful in determining the relative difficulty the learner experienced with the lan- guage and the content, and whether the language level for the next unit needs to be adjusted or, indeed, if parts of the unit need to be repeated or integrated into the upcoming unit.

Both summative and formative assessments are necessary to get an accurate view of the learn- er’s progress. “In a balanced assessment system, both summative and formative assessments are an integral part of information gathering. Depend too much on one or the other and the reality of student achievement in your classroom becomes unclear” (Garrison & Ehringhaus, 2014).

Proficiency Testing All discussions about assessing ELLs rely heavily on the notion of proficiency. Whether the intent is sum- mative or formative, whether the primary goal is to assess content knowledge or language ability, what is being evaluated is some aspect of the learner’s pro- ficiency. For language assessments, “proficiency test- ing is used to place and exit students and is designed to determine at what level an individual can speak, read, write, and comprehend another language” ( Pappamihiel & Mihai, 2011, p. 16). Proficiency and placement, thus, go hand in hand.

The form a proficiency test takes—the kinds of ques- tions asked or tasks required of the learner—depends on the underlying assumptions the test writer has about language learning and assessment. There are three broad categories of belief resulting in three dis- tinct approaches to testing:

1. The discrete point approach is based on the assumption that language consists of a well-combined set of discrete points of knowledge—building blocks in the extreme. Those building blocks are the components of the phonological (sound), morphologi- cal (words, prefixes, and suffixes), and syntactic (sentence) systems of English. The assumption is that if students learn the sound system, vocabulary and word forma- tion processes, and the rules of grammar, they can somehow cobble all these skills together to form language. “Discrete point tests measure language in small bits, such as in multiple-choice questions or fill-in items. Proficiency tests are designed to assess the separate and discrete aspects of language and a total score is produced” (Pappamiehl & Mihai, 2011, p. 16).

2. The integrated approach, in contrast, considers language to entail the simultaneous use of all levels of language skills. Sounds are not learned nor used in isolation but in words and phrases. Vocabulary is neither learned nor used in isolation but in larger structures and in concert with prefixes and suffixes. And the rules of sentence struc- ture are learned in meaningful sentences used in context. This approach represents a more holistic view of language and learning, but it still views language somewhat objectively as an entity, with linked parts, to be learned.

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Tests such as this are common in elementary schools. Is it formative or summative in nature? How might it be both?

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

3. The pragmatic skill or performance approach is broader still. In this approach test writers view language as a practical skill set linked to real-world knowledge and experience. In performance-based assessments, learners typically demonstrate what they can do with the language in a realistic setting—how well and appropriately they communicate. “Pragmatic tests link language knowledge with students’ own experiences and world knowledge. These types of tasks seek to be more real life” (Pappamihiel & Mihai, 2011, p. 16).

No one approach to assessment works for every purpose of assessment, and each has its uses (Table 4.1).

Table 4.1: Proficiency testing: Approaches and uses

Approach Summative or formative

Exemplar test items

Types of uses Limitations

Discrete Can be used as either

1. Circle the first sound in the word you hear. [Prompt]: dog. Responses: t, d, g, b.

2. Choose the cor- rect verb form in each sentence: I have been, will be, was being late many times before today.

3. A bird is an animal that: flies, runs fast, eats cereal.

1. Assessing the impact of a lesson distin- guishing t/d. Evaluating let- ter recognition ability.

2. Testing grammatical knowledge of verb tense and aspect.

3. Testing and comparing a large number of students.

1. Does not provide information about the learner’s ability to recognize or use the language items in real communicative tasks.

2. Better suited for test- ing understanding than for production.

3. Risk of confounding what is being tested: meaning of bird or meaning of predicate. Ability to process complex sentence structure.

4. Difficult to determine what the learner actu- ally knows.

Integrated Either 1. Answer in a complete sen- tence: Why is . . .? How far is it from Earth to the moon? What colors are mixed to create orange?

2. Circle all errors in the following sentence: Jack and Jill was going uphill to get a pale of water.

3. Summarize the story you just read (orally or in writing).

1. Evaluating effectiveness of lesson or unit.

2. Spot checking understanding of a selected vocabulary and structure in limited context.

3. Checking listen- ing comprehen- sion during lesson.

4. Evaluating curriculum and school goals.

1. Slight danger that content knowledge might be masked by lack of language proficiency.

2. Difficult to use and interpret with beginners.

(continued )

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

Approach Summative or formative

Exemplar test items

Types of uses Limitations

Pragmatic/ performance


Summative within class- room or school setting

Difficult to use for large populations

1. Cut out all the pictures of fruits in this magazine and organize them according to color.

2. Retell the story we read in class this morning.

3. Based on the data in this graph, what can be said about the rela- tionship between the number of absences in a year and test scores in math? Answer can be open-ended or multiple-choice (a. no rela- tion; the more absences, the higher the score . . . , etc.)

1. Ongoing evaluation of lesson or unit effectiveness.

2. Assessing student com- prehension and speaking ability.

3. Evaluating lesson or unit effectiveness.

4. Subject-area assessment.

1. Tests comprehension only.

2. Cannot be used with large populations.

3. Risk of confound- ing language ability with subject-area knowledge.

Table 4.1: Proficiency testing: Approaches and uses (continued )

Identifying and Placing ELLs Identifying the language and academic needs of ELLs is important because it is the basis for developing an appropriate program of instruction. “When ELLs’ needs are not identified, their program may lack the instructional components necessary for their success in language pro- ficiency and academic achievement” (ColorínColorado, 2007). In addition to finding out about the home language and educational background of each learner, the school needs to evaluate the English proficiency level and academic content knowledge. As we learned in Chapter 1, many states have processes in place that schools are required to follow in assessing oral and literacy proficiency:

School districts use a variety of methods to identify students as non-English proficiency, place them in bilingual programs, and allow them to exit such programs (or reclassify them as English proficient). These methods include home language use surveys, criterion-referenced tests, achievement tests, and language proficiency tests (Esquinca, Yaden, & Rueda, 2005).

It is usually easy to identify true beginners, but correctly assessing learners with some English ability is more complex. In order to place them in the appropriate grade level with the appropriate kinds of language support, educators need not only to measure English ability,

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

but also subject-area knowledge. Summative achievement tests are not generally suitable for this purpose. The major problem is that achievement tests and most other measures used for accountability purposes are designed to measure learning, but they are less successful in helping to improve learning. These assessments provide data that is useful to school leaders and teachers to evaluate curriculum and, to some degree, instruction, but they are not par- ticularly useful as roadmaps for improving individual learning. Many educators suggest that a better approach, especially for placement purposes, is a performance assessment.

As the term implies, a performance assessment allows the student to demonstrate content knowledge by reducing reliance on language, which is accomplished in a variety of ways, depending on the grade level and linguistic ability of the learner. They also provide a clearer picture of the learner’s academic needs. A performance assessment may be an informal teacher-devised test or a formal test used throughout the school or school district.

For placement purposes, the school must have a clear picture of the child’s entering proficiency levels in oral language and literacy or preliteracy. Different states and different school districts use different instruments, but all require some level of benchmarking of ELLs in order to place them in the appropriate program and grade level as well as to track progress.

Oral Language Assessment Those who are able to communicate effectively in English in social settings have a head start on acquiring their new language, but there is a differ- ence between the language used in social settings and cognitive-academic language (Chapter 3). Some of the commonly used measures of oral lan- guage ability include

1. Language Assessment Scales (LAS, or preLAS for pre-kindergarten). Available in both English and Spanish, this test can be used with K–12 students to identify and place students in ELL or bilingual programs. The tests provide measures of vocabulary, listening comprehension, and the ability to retell a story. Test items are of the “name that picture” type and also elicit action verbs. Although the story-retelling is argu- ably a performance-based measure, critics of the test argue that it focuses on dis- crete skills and elements and may not be adequate for placing ELLs.

2. IDEA Oral Language Proficiency Test (also known as IPT). Available in English and Spanish, this test is intended to measure language proficiency in pre-K through 12th grade students

for the purposes of initial identification, program placement, progress monitoring, and redesignation in school . . . . The IPT oral tests are indi- vidually administered, structured oral interviews, where the examiner asks the student questions or gives prompts. The examiner scores the student’s answers as correct or incorrect as each item is administered. Some items are based on pictures while others are based on interaction between the


Chemistry is just one of many subjects that allow ELLs to acquire and to demonstrate their content knowledge with minimal dependence on language.

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

examiner and the student. For example, students identify objects or actions in pictures, listen to brief stories and answer questions about them, and answer questions about themselves and their opinions and experiences. The oral tests assess proficiency in four domains of oral English or Spanish: vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, and verbal expression. (IPT Inservice Training, 2001)

3. Basic Inventory of Natural Language (BIN). Used to test K–12 students, this test is available for more than 30 languages. Students view large pictures and are asked to describe or discuss what they see. Their recorded responses are used to assess pro- nunciation as well as vocabulary and sentence length and complexity (Krach, n.d.) Also see http://www.arcassociates.org/files/CAELLRpt9-04.pdf

Reading and Writing Assessment Most states do not require assessment of reading and writing in kindergarten or first grade, but for older learners it is necessary to ascertain their level of proficiency in order to ensure correct program placement and to monitor progress. Many reading tests are essentially vocabulary tests, and while they can be useful, they are not helpful in determining much about reading or pre-reading skills: phoneme awareness, alphabet knowledge and sound- symbol correspondence, reading fluency, or comprehension. Most states and districts require particular tests, and some of the more commonly used ones are listed here:

1. Stanford English Proficiency Test. This is a complete battery of tests included pri- marily for assessing Spanish speakers’ proficiency in English but useful for other language groups as well. There is a preliteracy test for pre-K through grade 1.5 and a full battery of language and content area knowledge tests for use with learners to 12th grade.

2. ACCESS (developed for WIDA) (W-APT). All the member states in the WIDA Consor- tium require the use of this test to place and benchmark ELLs. Given to ELLs from kindergarten to 12th grade, it is designed to monitor progress in acquiring academic English and proficiency in all four domains. See http://www.wida.us/assessment/ access/ for further information.

3. LAS Links. This is a test intended to test proficiency in all four domains in order to determine the correct placement of newly arrived ELLs. The pre-LAS version tests oral language only for kindergarten and first grade, and the full battery is available for grades 2–12.

A complete description of these and other placement tests is beyond the scope and purpose of this book, but most state departments of education post detailed descriptions of the tests and administration guidelines online. Whichever test is used, it is important to remember that these standardized measures are not appropriate for every purpose. For example, in some states, LAS is not administered until January or February, with test results reported back in May. In the meantime, the school and the teacher must use other methods for placing and plan- ning instruction for their ELLs. As we have seen throughout this chapter, many methods exist, and effective teachers use a combination of formal and informal tests to make early decisions.

Some teachers will administer an informal reading inventory (IRI). An IRI is an individually administered assessment intended to diagnose and evaluate a number of skills associated with reading. A typical IRI consists of a word list and a passage ranging from preprimer to high school reading levels. After reading the passage, the student responds orally to questions

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Section 4.2 Categories of Assessment

designed to assess comprehension and recall. The evaluator uses the information gathered from the word recognition task and the answers to the comprehension questions, along with other data such as fluency, prior knowledge, and emotional state (depending on the particu- lar IRI), to determine the student’s reading level. Although there are many to choose from (see Additional Resources at the end of this chapter), there are doubts about the validity of the tests, especially for ELLs:

One of the assessment options for classroom teachers is the informal reading inventory (IRI), which is the most frequently used assessment tool for all stu- dents. Because of disagreement regarding the reliability and validity of IRIs for use with native English speakers, teachers should exercise greater caution when using them with ELLs, both in choosing the specific IRI and interpreting the results based on the influence of students’ accents on word pronuncia- tions, familiarity with culturally specific content, the kinds of questions asked, and the relevance to classroom instruction and to students’ culture. (Gandy, 2013, p. 271)

Even if there were no validity issues with IRIs, they are somewhat labor intensive and are not specific to the reading task at hand. In other words, an IRI score might indicate that a learner can read at a fourth grade level on the test passage, but it can’t predict how the learner will do with a different passage assigned by the teacher. One quick and easy alternative to the IRI that avoids these criticisms and also provides some indication of a student’s reading level, for example, is the Cloze test. Cloze is grounded in the Gestalt notion that using prior experience and knowledge, people will mentally fill in the missing parts when looking at an incomplete picture or drawing. There are three types of Cloze test, as illustrated in Cloze Procedure. Each one begins with a passage of text that the learner should be able to read if reading at grade level. It should be long enough to permit at least ten deleted words, and learners are encour- aged to guess. The first sentence is left intact to provide context.

Cloze Procedure Used to assess reading ability, the Cloze test can be constructed in three different ways, defined and illustrated below:

1. The fixed-ratio Cloze deletes every fifth, sixth, or seventh word. The 7:1 ratio obviously provides more linguistic context, but whichever method is chosen, at least ten blanks need to be filled in.

Children learn language in order to express …