When discussing our department goals we reviewed the School Improvement Plan and identified this year’s school focus as improving literacy. The English Language Learner (ELL) students represent 12.33% of our school population. There are many challenges that ELL students have to overcome, including language barriers, gaps in learning, and the acculturation process. Additionally, standardized testing measures depict a gap in content knowledge. ELL students had a 64% passing rate on the Reading SOL during the 2015-2016 school year, compared to a 93% pass rate for White students. To support our Level 1 and 2 ELL students, we selected the Strategies for Success curriculum developed by the county’s Office of ESOL Services. This curriculum is designed to support English Language Learners in core curricular areas and develop the habits necessary for academic success. 53% of the students who participated in Strategies for Success started the year with academic deficits that were more than a grade level below their peers. A department goal created this year aims to close the achievement gap for beginning ELL students who are at a Level 1 and 2 in the World-class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) scoring system. By the end of the 2016-17 school year 80% of the ELL students placed in the Level 1 and 2 8th grade Civics class will improve their proficiency in the oral language domain by one level based on the WIDA standards.
Students gained specific learning strategies, study skills, time management, organization, and self-advocacy skills. In addition, this course taught strategies to enhance English language development in the four language domains of reading, writing, listening and speaking. From October to June, 24 lessons were delivered on a weekly basis during the ESOL Civics class. The lessons covered areas including: using community resources, school readiness, self-awareness, reflection, stress management and technology skills. A reflection sheet was distributed to students at the end of each class.
Surveys were given at the beginning and end of the program. Perception data that was collected included: knowledge of teachers’ name, identifying a support person when facing a difficulty, understanding Fairfax County Student Rights and Responsibilities, awareness of appropriate behavior during emergency preparedness, and study skills strategies. The perception data shows that 11 students out of 13 improved their knowledge in areas of community building, school readiness and oral language skills. The outcome data for this goal is the WIDA test results. The oral language domain on the WIDA exam measured their mastery of English vocabulary. After reviewing the WIDA exam scores, data shows that 10 out of the 13 students met the goal by improving one level in the oral language domain. Furthermore, 4 out of the 13 students exceeded the goal by increasing their score 2 or more levels. Three out of the 13 students went down one level in this domain. It should be noted that changes were made to the WIDA test this year. To meet language demands of college and career readiness standards, WIDA is raising the bar for language proficiency. Students needed to showcase higher language skills in 2016–2017 to achieve the same proficiency level scores. The majority of these students entered US schools for the first time in the 7th grade. Therefore, they do not have any WIDA scores prior to 7th grade for comparison.
The language development of these students is essential in their academic success. They are entering high school where the curriculum will be more challenging. By providing the opportunity to develop and strengthen their language skills, it will allow them to have access to more general courses and be able to achieve success.
We did not meet our goal of 80% of ELL improving their proficiency in the oral language domain by one level based on WIDA standards. However, 77% did improve their oral language domain by one level.
Our work with this goal has several implications for the future. Working with ELL students is a work in progress. Closing the gap for these students requires time, consistency and persistence. We focused on 8th grade students for this goal and will plan to expand this successful program to reach both grade levels. The Civics teacher was helpful and flexible by allowing us to come during her class to teach lessons. We will continue to collaborate and seek support from teachers to implement this program. We could also involve other staff members when teaching the lessons that involve community resources (i.e., School Resource Officer, Health Aide).