Using data to drive school improvement sounds straightforward. Every day educators hear terminology like "data-driven decision making," "data dashboard," and "data analytics" with surprising frequency. Schools are awash in data more than ever before. On the one hand, the possibilities presented by these data systems are incredible. On the other hand, it is easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of the data. Rich datasets are often underutilized because educators are either unaware the data exists, or are unsure about how to effectively use the data. In this article, we want to showcase some specific data that can be used to drive school improvement for English language learners (ELLs).

This past academic year, schools across the state of Michigan recently began using a new summative assessment, the WIDA ACCESS, to measure the English proficiency levels of ELLs. How students score on this assessment is an important data point that factors into decisions regarding whether or not each student is ready to exit ELL status and have all English language development services withdrawn. While this is one important use of this assessment, there are many other ways to make use of the data gleaned from the WIDA ACCESS, especially in light of the helpful reports that are included in the cost of the assessment. These include:

  • Parent/Guardian Report
  • Teacher Report
  • Student Roster Report
  • School Frequency Report
  • District Frequency Report

Each of these reports can provide schools and teachers with different types of information. Some are more useful in identifying patterns and performance differences between schools, while others provide a more detailed view of individual students' skills at the time of the assessment. We encourage educators who work with ELLs to take some time to review the ACCESS for ELLs Interpretive Guide for Score Reports-Spring 2014, which contain exceptionally helpful and clear information, including a description and example of each of the reports, the definitions of various score levels, etc.

WIDA ACCESS reports were sent out to schools in July. The WIDA Student Data File (a downloadable spreadsheet that includes a list of students and their scores) is available on the Michigan Department of Education BAA Secure Site.

We would like to highlight some specific ways educators can use the data provided in these reports to drive school improvement.

Differentiating Instruction
As we have worked with educators across the state of Michigan, we have received many questions about how to effectively differentiate instruction for ELLs. Education scholar Diane Ravitch (2007) defines differentiated instruction as "a form of instruction that seeks to maximize each student's growth by recognizing that students have different ways of learning, different interests, and different ways of responding to instruction...it involves offering several different learning experiences in response to students' varied needs" (p. 75). One specific need of ELLs is to provide varying levels of English language development support through the learning process. In order to do so, teachers must have a solid understanding of how each ELL student is progressing in acquiring English proficiency. The Teacher Report is an excellent source of data that provides this information. Specifically, this report includes scale scores and language proficiency levels for students' listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills, as well as composite scores in oral language, literacy, comprehension, and overall score. These scores can be used as the basis for differentiating instruction. Teachers can match students' scores in the different language domains to WIDA's CAN DO Descriptors chart that clearly outlines the specific tasks ELLs at each level can feasibly do with basic support.

Although all students' scores should be reviewed, educators will likely want to focus on those students whose overall score is below 5.0. This is Michigan's threshold for English proficiency and suggests that these students will continue to be classified as ELLs due to their ongoing need for English language proficiency support according to the Michigan Department of Education's Entrance and Exit Protocol. Once you have identified which students' need a more in-depth review and you have reviewed the ACCESS for ELLs Interpretive Guide for Score Reports-Spring 2014, you will be able to ask the following types of questions as you look at the Teacher Report:

  1. Does the student have one or two low areas of performance? Perhaps the student's speaking and listening scores are quite low compared to reading and writing. This should alert you to increasing opportunities to develop those skills in your day-to-day instruction with the student.
  2. How different are the student's scores between standards assessed in the area of comprehension? For example if a student has a very low score in the area of social studies language comprehension, but a higher score in mathematics and science language comprehension, you might choose to make social studies a key focal area for this student. WIDA standards focus on academic language in each content area. This means that WIDA score reports are useful not only to ESL teachers, but can encourage collaboration with content area teachers.
  3. Is the student performing lower or higher on specific standards across the writing rubric categories of linguistic complexity, vocabulary usage, and language control? If so, you can make use of WIDA's Writing Rubric to get a better understanding of the skills the student currently possesses and goals to set in terms of getting students to the next level.

Evaluating English Language Development Services at the School Level
At a higher level, schools could use the School Frequency Report to identify larger patterns of instructional help needed. This report displays the distribution of ELLs across language proficiency levels for each language domain and composite scores. An analysis of this report can be used to influence larger programmatic decisions. For example, if a high percentage of fifth-grade students are scoring at beginning levels of proficiency in writing, this could prompt a principal to investigate what writing instruction looks like for ELLs in fifth-grade classrooms and consider a writing intervention for these students.

While the WIDA ACCESS reports will not tell educators everything about a student, they are certainly one piece of the puzzle to help schools improve English proficiency outcomes for individual students and provide insight into their instructional programs for ELLs. We want to note that these reports should be used in conjunction with other information to make the best decisions possible.

As you take time to examine your school's WIDA ACCESS reports, please do not hesitate to reach out to us with questions or concerns. In addition, we want to make you aware of several professional development opportunities to learn more about the WIDA ACCESS assessment. In particular, a team from your school might be interested in attending the session entitled "Data Analysis: Focus on the Classroom" on December 4th or 5th, which will provide information on utilizing WIDA assessment data to improve classroom instruction.

Until the next issue.

Madeline Mavrogordato & Jennifer Paul

Click Here for References

Ravitch, D. (2007). EdSpeak: A glossary of education terms, phrases, buzzwords, and jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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