English Learners

How to Assess English-Learners’ Needs From a Distance? Here’s Some Help

By Corey Mitchell — May 28, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Despite coronavirus-related closures, school districts are enrolling newly arrived students and children scheduled to start kindergarten in the fall—and federal law mandates that districts screen the students to determine if they need English-learner support services.

Districts are using home-language surveys to determine if students are eligible to take an English-language screening test. But with social distancing requirements that prevent face-to-face screenings, schools must find other ways to assess how much support new English-learners will need in remote learning environments or when classes resume.

To help out, the Council of the Great City Schools, a membership organization of the nation’s large, urban school systems, has developed a set of sample questionnaires to be used as provisional screeners for English proficiency during the COVID-19 outbreak.

A recently released fact sheet from the U.S. Department on Education on English-learners and distance learning advises that district must attempt to identify English-learners to the “greatest extent possible” even though physical campuses are closed.

The biggest challenge for schools could come when classes resume for elementary schools, where a larger share of students are English-learners. Federal data show that roughly 16 percent of the nation’s kindergarten students are English-learners. Since most districts cancelled in-person kindergarten registration this year, schools may not have enough information to allocate adequate resources to support children who will arrive to school with little exposure to English at home.

The sample questionnaires from the Council of the Great City Schools help assess students’ English-speaking and listening skills as beginner-level, intermediate-level or advanced-level for students in three different grade bands—kindergarten through 2nd grade, 3rd through 5th grade, and 6th through 12th grade.

However, the organization cautions that provisional screenings cannot replace the formal English-learner identification process, which districts must administer once their schools resume normal operations.

Related Reading

English-Learners May Be Left Behind as Remote Learning Becomes ‘New Normal’

Schools Lean on Staff Who Speak Students’ Language to Keep English-Learners Connected

What’s in a Home-Language Survey?

Image Credit: Maritza Fabia, a student at Rose Hill Elementary School in Colorado’s Adams 14 school district, listens to her teacher during a Spanish class.--Nathan W. Armes for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.