K12 ELLs: Effective Placement Strategies

How to strengthen your student intake and enrolment process for your K12 ELLs

Lately, we’ve been partnering with a number of public K12 schools and districts working with English Language Learners (ELLs). Many of these teachers first came to us looking for an effective starting point when faced with new ELLs. Today we’d like to share some of these placement strategies that have been effective with our partners. Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to use them with your K12 ELLs! 

Every school’s approach to K12 ELLs is unique, yet some similarities exist  

While some schools and districts have dedicated ESL specialists, many others take an integrated approach. In integrated programs, ELA teachers are responsible for ELLs. Regardless of program delivery, most schools and districts tend to have a few things in common:

  • They’re dealing with a large group of students who each have unique needsK12 ELLs
  • Student intakes are non-homogenous in nature (different countries of origin / native languages, different prior exposure to English, different support offered at home / in their community, different overall language challenges)
  • Student rosters are in flux with teachers obtaining new ELLs throughout the school year
  • There’s not enough class time!

Often, the only practical solution to these challenges is to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. This usually puts K12 ELLs into overly broad beginner/intermediate/upper-intermediate buckets and starts them down a standardized curriculum track.  This benefit of this approach to K12 ELL support is its simplicity. Unfortunately, it is not overly targeted. Students often end up in course streams that do not match their needs.
Of course, this does little to support the teachers. They are forced to adapt their pre-determined courses ‘on-the-go’ to meet their students’ needs. Furthermore, it’s difficult to track progress and determine when a student is ready to exit the support stream.

Placement is the key… 

Being able to map a teacher’s approach to target a student’s needs starts at the beginning, with effective student placement.  If a student’s needs can be accurately assessed, then it becomes possible to create a plan for their language deficiencies. Students can then be placed on a learning plan to tackle their gaps. Progress can then be measured at regular intervals. Finally, criteria for when a student is ready to exit the support stream can be applied.

But how do we take a personalized approach like this with public K12 ELLs? What about large intakes? 

We’ve built a tool designed specifically for this purpose: our Placement Test.  Administrators responsible for placing K12 ELLs into course streams and supporting their ESL and ELA teachers are using the placement test to create better outcomes. Better outcomes for both students and teachers. The test does this in a few key ways:

It’s Consistent

One of the problems with assessment tools is that it’s difficult to test consistently while accommodating various levels.  Our Placement Test is adaptive. It uses a student’s grammar score to determine appropriate skill questions for speaking, reading, listening, and writing.  The Placement Test also draws questions from a large question bank. It can be administered at regular intervals to track progress without repeating the same questions.

It’s Logistically Sound

Students complete the placement test online. These students can work on the test from classrooms, computer labs, or even at home. This makes it easy to administer quickly to even large intakes.  The test can be taken from any internet-enabled device, which is convenient for students who may have limited computer availability. Finally, it also has instructions in many languages, so there’s no barrier for ELLs whose ability to read English instructions may be limited.

It’s Accurate

Every question on the Placement Test has been written in-house by our team of ESL specialists. Combined with the fact that the speaking portion of the test requires each student to use his or her real voice means cheating is virtually impossible.  And because each section of the test contains instructions explaining the timing and flow, the expectations are clear.

And finally, test results support ESL and ELA teachers 

For every student that takes our placement test, teachers are delivered a detailed diagnostic that can inform their approach to working with that ELL. In addition to a level diagnostic, the teacher is delivered a Gap Analysis and Individual Learning Plan. The Individual Learning Plan is a list of lessons to target the student’s ESL gaps. These starting points significantly reduce the amount of ‘guesswork’ involved in the first interactions with a new student. This is especially useful when students are added to a teacher’s rosters midway through the year or during the first week of a busy intake.

We’d like to learn about your K12 ELLs

A number of diverse schools and districts have been using our tools to effectively place their K12 ELLs. From Xiamen International School in China to New Design High in New York City, we’ve been helping a diverse set of teachers focus on outcomes for their ELLs.
We’re holding a webinar specifically to discuss some of these tools. You can register for the session here. We’d love for you to attend so we can learn about your unique teaching environment. 
And of course, feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like to offer any insights from your own experiences with K12 ELLs. 

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