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Grading High School Newcomers

  • 1.  Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 11-10-2018 08:36
    Hello colleagues,

    I work in a large district with many older Newcomers (we define a newcomer as English proficiency below 1.9 on WIDA ACCESS and being in the U.S. 1-2 years). We are looking for alternative ways to assign grades to newcomers students in their content classrooms. What I hear from content teachers is that if a Newcomer works hard and completes modified assignments and modified assessments and the teacher gives them an 'A,' the following year the content teachers will look at the A and determine that student mastered grade level content (which may be true, but at a modified level).

    We have created a rubric based on the WIDA performance definitions for teachers to use, but wanted to know what other school districts have in place to assign end of term grades for Newcomer students.

    Thank you,
    Kiki Alimonos

    Aggeliki Alimonos
    Buncombe County Schools

  • 2.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 12-10-2018 11:22
    Being in a WIDA state is a definite plus.  The first thing that teachers need to know is that Language and Content are not synonymous.  That is why WIDA is perfect!  Students can master the content using a lower level of language.  Example:  (In a lesson about  the settlement of Jamestown) The Native Americans had become increasingly discontent about the interlopers poaching the wildlife.  A Level 2 rewrite: The Indians were not happy because the Pilgrims were killing so many animals when they hunted.  The chief was worried there would not be enough meat for his people to last the winter.  The concept (the content) remains the same.  The language of the explanation is reduced to the appropriate level.

    Lynore M. Carnuccio
    Adjunct Instructor,
    University of Central OK
    The Language Company
    Edmond, OK

  • 3.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 12-10-2018 12:49
    You have asked an important question, Kiki, since high school courses and credits are important for graduation. Newcomer programs have approached this situation in a few different ways. Some have pass/fail grading options for a newcomer student's first year. (This then needs another step to consider what to do with GPAs.) Some offer specific sheltered courses for the students and when the teachers receive these learners the following year, they know they were in a specially designed course.

    It is useful to know whether the students meet the standards of a course in terms of content knowledge even though their academic English skills are below their non-English learner peers. If the English learners can do so, through modified assignments as you mention, then they often get the core credit for the course. In some states they have to take an end-of-course test to get the credit. So programs wait until the students have developed stronger language skills to have them take it (although they often then have refresher classes/Sat school to prepare for a test a year or two after the course was taken).

    What is important is that all the teachers in the school understand the basics of second language acquisition and have an appreciation for the knowledge the English learners have when the students enter their classrooms. Looking at the WIDA Can-Dos and other materials is one way to help all teachers in a school understand these issues and pedagogical responses a bit better. TESOL's 6 Principles book is another resource that you might use to have discussions with the general education teachers, or use as a book study.

    If you want to discuss the grading ideas with schools that have high school newcomer programs, you can look at a database on the Center for Applied Linguistics website ( ). The database has not been updated in a few years, but many programs are still operating. You will find a few in North Carolina that participated in the research. More about the research on newcomer programs can be found at .
    You'll be able to download the project report as well.

    Good luck with your work and with your advocacy for these students,

    Deborah Short
    Academic Language Research & Training

  • 4.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 12-10-2018 19:29
    This link is the recommendation on the New Jersey Department of Education website for ELL Newcomers.

    Hana Prashker
    NJTESOL/NJBE ESL Secondary SIG Representativ

  • 5.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 13-10-2018 02:22
    Hi there.

    I echo what has been said here, particularly Dr. Short's comment and would just add that bilingual options and supports for assessing content knowledge are legal and practical options.  Many content tests have bilingual versions that can be used for students, either solely in the home language or in a bilingual mode (i.e. home language next to English).  Students can respond in their home language or with as much English as they know or even in both.  Assessing this requires a view of second language acquisition and translanguaging that might take some development in a school or district but is nevertheless a powerful way to engage learners, encourage them, and ultimately assign them the grades and credit they should deserve for the content knowledge they have at the time of assessment.

    Unfortunately, based on my own reading of the evidence about newcomers, which includes Dr. Short's critical work in this area, bilingual supports or programs are not well integrated with newcomer programs or support of adolescent newcomers in general.  This is true even for languages with quite a lot of resources available for learning and assessment, such as Spanish, and is certainly the case for less commonly taught languages (in the U.S.).  However, I've observed that this can be worked through with flexible school or district policies, hiring good bi/multilingual teachers or paraprofessionals, and the allocation of resources to find and/or develop home language materials with the proper content knowledge.

    And just to address the elephant in the room--using these methods is not to obscure the importance of learning English!  That remains a key goal in every U.S. context I know of.  However, it is about supporting students by using direct methods to engage their home language knowledge, giving them appropriate credit for that, which, we hope, will be an encouragement to stay engaged with school and the English language learning and new content knowledge they are developing.

    All the best as you continue to work with this critical group of students!

    Brian Seilstad, Ph.D.

    Brian Seilstad
    United States

  • 6.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 14-10-2018 13:41

    I came into this discussion late, so I may have missed something important.

    The community college system in my state is moving towards "multiple measures."  One thing that this means is that the college placement test will no longer be used, and that (at my college) students with a 2.8 average in high school will qualify to go directly into the first semester of college composition.

    ​I'm wondering how students who receive a US high school diploma with grades based on content knowledge but not English proficiency will fare if they are dropped (my choice of verb) into college composition.  I already see students who were given credit for 3 years of high school in their first language, then did essentially sheltered content for one year (often speaking their first language with many fellow students for much of the day), then leave with a US high school diploma and a high grade point.  Since we are still using a placement test, they may place into an eight-week "developmental" reading/comp class designed for native speakers and find themselves lost.  The teachers for those classes also feel they have inadequate background or time to support NNSs in their classes.  (Others end up in college composition and also find themselves lost.)

    Some students are, indeed, ready for college composition.  But of those that aren't, the lucky ones find their way to our Academic ESL classes.  However, there's no guarantee that anyone will even inform them of our existence.


    Karen Stanley
    Professor, Academic ESL
    Central Piedmont Community College
    Charlotte, NC USA

  • 7.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 14-10-2018 15:09
    Hi Kiki and others involved,

    I find this to be a tough question, and one that our department/school is looking into. I agree with the previous replies, and think those resources are great. Being a WIDA state is a great resource, especially with the CAN-DO statements. We've begun identifying students' scores and giving them to the teachers, along with CAN-DO statements, to help our general education teachers have an idea of how they can accommodate the language learners in their classrooms.

    Other thoughts...the grading system, especially for high school, can be a landmine. At this level, those GPAs are supposed to indicate college readiness, mastery of a skill, and so on. In reality, they oftentimes do not, and this really trips up the students later on. As teachers, we expect that if a student receives a B from a science course, that it means most of the content was mastered. However, oftentimes I find that teachers will give a struggling student a higher grade that reflects more "effort" than "mastery." I also see that for English learners the grades sometimes reflect their use of English, and not their mastery of content.

    We are looking at going more into a grading rubric that reflects mastery of content (standards-based) within our department. This is something that we are still feeling out, so I can only give you vague parameters. I know many others have already done this, so perhaps they can chime in? With this system, though, the hope is that we can relax some of the deadlines and focus more on whether the students have learned the content, and ways that they can show this mastery. I'm going to pilot some of the material this coming quarter, and already I can see that this is going to be a lot more involved, on the teacher's part, in the beginning. I'm not too excited about that, as many of us know the workload of being a K-12 teacher. My hope, though, in the end is that it will give my lower English-level learners more time and ways to show me they understand the content courses, which is the end game.

    Jana Moore, Ph.D.
    ELL Coordinator
    Moanalua High School

  • 8.  RE: Grading High School Newcomers

    Posted 15-10-2018 10:20
    ​I teach at a community college in Michigan and our college is also headed towards using the high school GPA as opposed to standardized placement tests. A large number of our EAPP students are high school graduates which means they will also drop directly into English composition and other college classes even if they came in the middle of their senior year or graduated from a completely online high school which Michigan has. We also have some charter schools and a vendor school in our area where unofficially the language of instruction is not English. Even some students graduating from good ESL programs at the high school level may not yet have the English skills to do college-level work. I understand the need to support content knowledge in a student's native language, but as the big trend at community college is to use GPA for placement and the research driving this points to 2.8 as the GPA needed for English composition, I fear many of our ELL students will do poorly. As Karen mentioned this new high school GPA placement procedure also means that our EAPP area may be completely skipped over by all students as there may be no way to identify ESL students at our community college in the future.

    Theresa Pruett-Said
    Macomb Community College