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How do you fairly grade English learners?

How do you fairly assess what your English learners know? How do you grade students who are not yet proficient enough in English to reach grade level expectations on all assignments?

**WARNING:  This blog is chock full of my own (pretty confident) opinions. :-)   I welcome any and all conversation and varying opinions on this topic.**

Since returning to a classroom environment on a more regular basis, I've been reminded how fast the content is delivered and the pace of new terms, new concepts, and new activities.  Having not spoken Spanish, biology, geometry, or theater in quite some time, I know my brain's tired at the end of the day!

Last week's blog about newcomers prompted a flurry of follow-up questions about grading.  This topic comes up a lot!

Last week I talked about newcomers getting about 20% of what happens in the classroom and a bit more with supports and a slower pace.  This isn't a research based number.  This is what I've seen daily and year after year.  As we know, there is very little research out there about teaching English learners in general.  This is just reality.  It's a ballpark goal I aim for daily and feel like we've done well when we crush it.  If we can get more, that means the students are growing past that level 1 and we add more and more as they grow.

It's always a great conversation when I explain to teachers that they can give themselves and the students a break.  There is NO research to show that a newcomer should be expected to keep pace with English speaking peers.  That's  levels 5 and 6.  Levels 1/2 mean levels 1/2.  It's not forever, but for right now, what is the MOST important content today and how can we get THAT across.  The rest is bonus!  Sometimes it takes a while for teachers to give themselves that permission, but once they do it's a sigh of relief.  

For example, in a recent English class, I observed a teacher assign students the task of looking for 5 different ways to analyze text.  The text was read aloud, so native English speakers also had a better chance of focusing more on the analysis (priority of the day) and less on the process of reading.  I asked if she could narrow it down to two for the newcomers, and suggested that "number" was one they could handle pretty well.  She added "contrast and contradiction".  Ok.  Challenge accepted.  Narrow our focus and we will be analyzing text.  Insist on all five and we would be much less productive, as it takes more time to process all of the information in our brains in two languages and class would be over or moving on before we got through the explanation.  

I understand this approach is not going to leave students fully prepared for the state assessment, but I'd prefer they leave class with one or two solid ideas of text analysis then feeling overwhelmed and shut down understanding none of them.  Is our grading meant to reflect the students' preparation for the state test, or reflect their progress toward meeting the standard?  Good question.

Analyze in detail how an author's ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).


Did my students meet this standard by using just two ways of analyzing the text and focusing on a few short excerpts after listening to the entire text?  Did they demonstrate this knowledge by sharing their thoughts with partners first in Spanish and then working that into English in a few short sentences?  I know my opinion, but this is the conversation that needs to happen between teachers as we consider differentiation across English proficiency levels.

I welcome your thoughts on the subject!


Last spring I posted the vlog below on the topic.  Check it out for more thoughts on grading and developing assessment for English learners.  This is where you find the more practical help versus opinion.

Don't miss the free download to help you plan your next assessment!

Take Me To The Video And Handout, Please!



Blog author, Kelly Reider, is the founder of English Learner Portal.  She currently works with high school newcomers and provides professional learning workshops both online and across the country.

Want more professional learning around developing language and content in your classroom?  Take a look at our online course, "A Content Teacher's Guide to English Learner Success".  This course is perfect for those just getting started with English learners and is open for enrollment.


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