How can you fairly grade and assess your English learners?

Let’s talk about the reality of grading in the classroom.

We always need to start with the standard.  Read it carefully.  When you are thinking about a high school Language Arts class, what does the standard say you are required to teach? For example, does the standard say you must read Macbeth and write an essay? Or does it say you must read grade-level appropriate literature, find the conflict, and cite evidence?

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This worksheet will help you align the content standards and your expectations with the proficiency level of your English learners. 

See the difference? Using that as a guideline, you can make modifications in your teaching expectations and find ways your English learners can keep up and demonstrate their knowledge.

Some ideas for modifying your lessons in Language Arts include:

  • Use graphic novels
  • Use cliff notes
  • Use modified versions of the text
  • Use just excerpts. Possibly just reading crucial pieces that will lead the student to learn the standard of the expectation.

Now let’s consider an example from science class.

Does a student need to create a full-blown lab report or could the student orally demonstrate/explain the process, procedures, and outcomes of whatever happened? A lab report is an important piece of information, but developmentally our lower level proficiency students often aren’t there yet in their writing. They could still demonstrate, just in a different method.

The flexibility you can provide your students can make a world of difference.

Consider how you could accept different models as evidence of what a student is learning rather than just forcing them to deliver one format (ex: lab report, term paper, test, etc.). The variability in your willingness to accept different formats can be the acceptance an English learner needs to boost their confidence and strengthen their skills.

What is true evidence of the standard for a proficiency level one student?

And for each level up until they are a fluent English speaker? When you look at your standards and begin planning, consider how the student will show you evidence of achieving the standard?


Here are a few thoughts to help you:

  1. Know the proficiency level and know what the level means.
    1. Ask your ESL teacher for the data if you don’t know where to find it. Ask for your student’s English proficiency levels.
    2. Ask for the break down by the four domains and the overall score.
      1. Listening
      2. Speaking
      3. Reading
      4. Writing
      5. Overall score
    3. These scores will tell you the “comfort zone” of your student is in his/her proficiency of English. Your expectations need to shift if you are assessing an oral response vs. a written response - based on their scores.  Remember, these scores are from Jan/Feb/March, so if you as the school year goes by, aim higher as the students have probably made progress toward the next level since the assessment.
  2. Know what those proficient levels mean so you can adjust your expectations accordingly.
    The WIDA CAN-DO Descriptors are a great resource to use to look up your student’s level and understand the expectations for that level. You can download the WIDA CAN-DO chart from  If you aren’t in a WIDA state, all states are required to have something similar that describes each proficiency level.
  3. How do you challenge yourself to think differently about assessment and grading?
    How can a proficiency level one English learner show you what they know without being held to the same language standard as a native English speaker? The WIDA CAN-DO chart gives you reasonable expectations of what you can expect from your students and provides you fair ways to assess the student.


Disclosure: Before attempting to create your own guidelines for assessment, be sure to always check first with your district about their policy. Sometimes they have one established that can help you. With that said, let’s dive into today’s lesson because it’s a good one!

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This worksheet will help you align the content standards and your expectations with the proficiency level of your English learners. 


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