Wooden ruler with words - What have you learned?
Note:  If you’re joining us for the first time, July 2019 is the month we emphasize the value of discussion among our 
community of teachers here at Dear Dr. Mooney. This fourth article concludes our discussion series, but the
discussion is only getting started this summer. Take a look at this week’s article and spend a few minutes adding your
contributions to the discussions featured this month!

Assessment Nation

Assessment has been a primary topic in education discussions over the past 20 years. High-stakes assessments are used across the country to evaluate and rank students, teachers, schools, districts, and even states. In spite of this prolonged emphasis on assessment, teachers often struggle with knowing how to assess English Learners (ELs) appropriately. 

  • Should I give them the same science test I give my other students?
  • How do I grade their work?
  • Do I grade their English mistakes or only focus on their content knowledge?
  • How can I know if they’re meeting standards?

These are all questions I have heard from teachers, and unfortunately, they don’t come with easy answers. However, a good place to begin when designing assessments for ELs is to learn about their English language proficiency levels. 

Start with WIDA Scores and Can-Do Descriptors

If your state is part of the WIDA consortium, you should be able to obtain your students’ WIDA scores. Based upon the WIDA Screener or ACCESS test, the scores give you a realistic idea of your students’ proficiency with academic English in all four language domains – reading, writing, listening, speaking. The scores range from 1 (Entering) to 6 (Reaching).

Using WIDA’s Can-Do Descriptors and your students’ scores, you can determine reasonable expectations for their performance on academic work. 

Realistic Expectations

You may find that your traditional assessment tasks are beyond the current linguistic reach of your students, and alternative assessments are needed. For example, you may be able to allow them to respond in writing in their native language, and then use a translation app to get the gist of their answers. 

It’s also possible that students simply need some additional support in order to show you all that they know. Try offering a word bank or simplified questions that still address the content. 


Assessing English learners appropriately is complex, but discovering their academic English proficiency levels is the first step. Armed with your students’ WIDA scores and the Can-Do Descriptors, you are equipped to begin designing effective assessment materials.

Let’s talk about this!

Tell us about your assessment successes and challenges in the new discussion, Assessing My ELs, which opens today under the Assessment forum.

Just joining us in July?

Check out these helpful suggestions on how to get started!

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