Overview of new ELP Standards (Elementary)

Our first professional development for this school focused on getting to know the new ELP Standards that our state is adopting this year.  We had a chance to learn a bit about how they came to be, what the main features of each of them are, what assessments we might use to measure progress on those standards, and what recording of progress will look like for our elementary ELL students this year.

Find the Powerpoint Presentation from this professional development here.

Click here to see the overviews of the standards as developed ELL teachers during our professional development. (link not yet active)

View Elementary ELP Standards Documents


A How-To Guide to Assessing Reading Proficiency with ELLs

DRA, LRP, Benchmark Books, and running records all work to assess reading proficiency.  But, what many of us wonder is…am I doing this right?  There are quite a few steps!   Maybe you haven’t had the chance to see one of these assessments in action.  Maybe you just want to double check or see one given to an ELL student.  Whatever your reason, we hope you’ll find the resources here helpful in giving and examining DRAs, LRPs, and Bench Mark Books to ELL students!

If you are interested in learning more about looking at these assessments in terms of Language Acquisition, please check out this link to Language Acquisition Considerations when Assessing ELL’s Reading Proficiency to find out more!


Click here to listen to an ELL student reading (audio only)

Click here for an example of administering and scoring a DRA  (if you have difficulty, try Firefox or Safari as your browser)

Click here for the Comprehension Questions and Retelling assessment     AND  Click here to listen to an ELL student’s responses (audio only)

“Testing Guidelines” resource to answer some frequently asked questions and share the marking conventions for DRAs created by the LPS Literacy Teacher Leaders

DRA-LRP-Benchmark Book Correlation Chart

Reading Assessment Log — Word version to type notes into

Reading Assessment Log — PDF version to print hard copies


Supporting English Learners’ Academic and Language Development

With an ever-growing number of English Language Learners in schools all across our school district, many are eager to learn how they can support students’ academic growth. According to Bresser, Melanese, and Sphar, “Every part of learning is mediated through language – from the arousal of a curiosity, to the teacher’s explanation of a concept, to the formation of an understanding of that concept, to the verbalization or written expression of that understanding.” (2009, p.  1). This being the case, we need to intentionally plan our instruction and assessment taking into account the language students will need to first access the content we are teaching and to later demonstrate their understanding of this content.

A critical component of our planning process is knowing what to expect of ELL students at each stage of language proficiency. The five stages of language acquisition are preproduction, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency. These stages do not directly correspond to the five ELL levels to which students are assigned in the state of Nebraska. See below.

  • Level 1 – preproduction, early production, speech emergence
  • Level 2 – speech emergence
  • Level 3 – intermediate fluency
  • Level 4 – intermediate fluency
  • Level 5 – advanced fluency

To learn specifics about what one can expect students to be able to understand and do at each of these levels, click here.

To learn about strategies for supporting student growth, click here.

If you have questions or would like support in implementing any of these strategies, please do not hesitate to contact your building’s ELL Instructional Coach.


Bresser, R., Melanese, K., & Sphar, C. (2009). Supporting English language learners in math class, grades 3-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications.

Gottlieb, M. (2006). Assesing English language learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hill, J., & Miller, K. (2013). Classroom instruction that works with English language learners (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McREL.

Lincoln High Staff Meetings November 12, 2014

As part of the cultural proficiency journey, teachers at Lincoln High attended period staff meetings throughout the day on November 12, 2014. One focus was second language acquisition and how to support the ELL students (levels 1-5)  and the students who have a home language other than English. We discussed input (receptive language) and output (productive language) and how to support students at any given proficiency level. We shared some ideas of strategies to support these students and allowable accommodations. To see the presentation, click here.

Strategies and Accommodations Shared by Staff

illustrated directions-many photos of process

directions given orally and on the board

speak slower and check for understanding

enunciate clearly

demonstrations (modeling)

show videos to promote understanding

use nonverbal cues, gestures

word walls

word banks

notes with visuals and drawing options

small groups, pairs (sometimes with same language, sometimes with English-speaking peer models), preferential seating

provide extra help, one-on-one support

extended time

shorten assignments, provide alternative assignments and assessments

have students translate words in their language

use bilingual/picture dictionaries, Google Translate (for vocabulary and simple phrases), dictionary phone apps

encourage students to access resources online

text on tape, listen to reading

use sentence starters/frames

use graphic organizers

use rewordify.com

have students present a speech in their native language, followed by English (grade the presentation -Native, the content -English)

use cooperative learning strategies

encourage self-advocacy skills

contact bilingual liaisons-make sure that I make the first phone call home

learn about the different cultures




Digital Resources for ELL

In this session we discussed the importance of digital citizenship and we shared resources to promote language acquisition for ELLs. We shared resources available through Wonders, the LPS Library Media Center Digital Resources, Edmodo, and GoogleDocs. Teachers had the opportunity to explore these resources and create their own lesson plans. To view the Docushare collection, click here.

Secondary Curriculum Reading Assessments (Target Objectives)

Reading Target Objective Schedule 2014-15

Level 1 Class A (Inside Materials)

  • Quarter 1 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 4 Text Structures (T.O. 3)

Level 1 Class B (Reading Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 3 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 4 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)

Level 1 Class C (Content Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 2 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)

Level 2 Class A (Inside Materials-Middle School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)

Level 2 Class A (Edge Materials-High School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)

Level 2 Class B (Reading/Content Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2) and Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 2 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 3 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 4 Text Structures (T.O. 3)

Level 3 Class A (Inside Materials-Middle School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Text Structures (T.O. 3)
  • Quarter 4 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)

Level 3 Class A (Edge Materials-High School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 4 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2) and Text Structures (T.O. 3)

Level 3 Class B (Reading/Writing Focus)

  • Quarter 1 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 2 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 3 Persuasive Writing
  • Quarter 4 Expository Writing

Level 4 Class (Inside Materials-Middle School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Persuasive Writing
  • Quarter 4 Expository Writing

Level 4 Class (Edge Materials-High School)

  • Quarter 1 Elements of Fiction (T.O. 1)
  • Quarter 2 Main Idea and Details (T.O. 2)
  • Quarter 3 Persuasive Writing
  • Quarter 4 Expository Writing

School Psychologists Presentation

School communities have staff who perform a variety of roles to make sure that educational needs are met for students.  We now have students who are past participants in the English Language Learner program as well as current participants in the ELL program in every building in our school district. This requires a level of  understanding of language influences in learning by everyone in a building, sharing in the goal of increasing graduation rates for students and also making sure that each individual child is reaching their highest academic potential.

We recently had the opportunity to visit with school psychologists during their PLC. Some of the topics we covered were:

(See also Making Family Conferences Successful)

The key focus in the conversation was how to gather information, in partnership with parents, bilingual liaisons, teachers and administrators and ask ourselves how language influences learning that is happening. Sometimes through this process of gathering information there may be additional influences besides language acquisition that begin to surface. When interviewing parents, some things to consider would be as follows:

  • Is the student also having difficulty speaking/reading/listening/writing in first language?
  • Does the student struggle with retaining information even after it’s been taught/explained multiple times?
  • Can they follow directions at home in first language?

Development in first language foundation and parent insight is a powerful piece in determining an appropriate plan for how to support learning when students seem to plateau in their learning. Any student that is being considered for the SAT process who is also an English Language Learner, should have a ELL parent interview conducted in order to begin to understand a child’s development in their foundation!


Composite ELL Level

Traditionally in Lincoln Public Schools, students enrolled in the English Language Learners program have been assigned levels based on each of the individual domains of speaking, listening, reading and writing. In kindergarten and first grade, students were placed in service based on their speaking/listening level due to the fact that it seemed the most developmentally appropriate placement. Transitioning from 1st to 2nd grade, demands in academic language proficiency increased and as a result, students’ levels were adjusted to reflect their writing level instead of their speaking/listening level.

According to Verplaetse & Migliacci (2008), ELL students may sound as if they are English fluent in their oral speech within two years’ time, but this is deceptive.  They need minimally five years and often as much as 10 years to fully develop the language proficiency they need to operate in an academic setting on par with their native English-speaking classmates (p.6).

In addition, Cummins (1979) and Thomas and Collier (2002) agree that students develop interpersonal social language in two to three years, whereas academic language takes five to seven years.  Butler, Stevens, and Castellon (2007) state, “ELs were often exited from language support programs because they sounded fluent in social language or were tested primarily on social language.”  Focusing solely on social language proficiency as opposed to academic language proficiency frequently leads to learning concerns down the road (as cited in Peregoy & Boyle, 2013, p. 46).

Therefore, level placement for students enrolled in the English Language Learner program in Lincoln Public schools will be based on a composite score as opposed to being leveled by a specific domain for the following reasons:

1. To reduce variability in how students are leveled and create more consistency.

2. To ensure that all four domains are reflected in an ELL student’s level.

3. Prevent premature exit from the ELL program and ensure that students who quickly master listening and speaking skills also master necessary reading and writing skills (“Guide to Understanding Scores,” n.d., para. 21).

Please view the following resources for more information on Composite Levels:

Composite Level Rationale and Examples of Configuring Composite Levels

Translated Note to Explain the Adjustment to Composite Levels to parents

Updated ELL Assessment Summary

Tutorial Video on How to Configure Composite ELL Levels  (if you have trouble viewing the video, try opening it using either a Firefox or Safari browser)


Guide to Understanding Scores on the English Language Development Assessment. (n.d.). In Nebraska Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www.education.ne.gov/natlorigin/ELDA.html

Peregoy, S., & Boyle, O. (2013). Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for Teaching K-12 English Learners. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Verplaestse, L. & Migliacci, N. (2008).  Inclusive Pedagogy for English Language Learners:  A Handbook of Research-Informed Practices.  New York, NY:  Routledge.

Secondary ELL PLC Work 2013-14

In order to correlate our work with the district’s PLC vision using Data Teams, ELL teachers, coaches, and ESU Assessment Specialists collaborated monthly during the 2013-14 school year. We worked to identify target objectives, to define proficiency, and to develop common assessments for each ELL level in the areas of reading and language acquisition. We developed a table of specifications for three target objectives in reading that define the objectives we are measuring, how we will measure these, and benchmarks that will be used.  Our plan is to continue working on the data teams process.

During our first PLC meeting in August, we presented the data teams process. We looked at what we would be doing and how we would be doing it. We looked at the alignment of our reading objectives with our state ELL guidelines, our ELDA assessment, the NeSA Reading assessment, and Common Core Anchor Standards. Our first target objective focused on fiction and the elements of a story. To see our presentation, click here.

During our September PLC meeting we discussed the process of identifying target objectives and how to determine proficiency at each language level. Teachers brought student work and began to write a description of what a Level “X” student who is proficient on this objective should be able to do (skills) and know (language concepts)? We also discussed how a student might be asked to demonstrate this. To see our presentation, click here.

In October, we reviewed the tenets of successful PLCs and we really focused on looking at the reading objectives through the language lens. We collected student artifacts for the target objective #1 reading fiction and identifying the elements of fiction. We began unwrapping our target objective #2 reading nonfiction and identifying the main idea and key supporting details. To see our presentation, click here.

At our November PLC, we shared the work that each group had done to define proficiency at that language level. Each group shared a statement of what students can do and how they will demonstrate their proficiency at the level. We also began looking at student work for our second target objective of identifying the main idea and supporting details in nonfiction. To see our presentation, click here.

During our December PLC, we reviewed the work we had done thus far. We reviewed target objective #1, we worked on target objective #2 and wrote the description of what a Level “X” student who is proficient on this objective should be able to do(skills) and know(language concepts)? We also began looking at our target objective #3 reading nonfiction and identifying text structures. To see our presentation, click here.

Our PLC work in January consisted of evaluating the proficiency definitions for each level, the graphic organizers and texts for both fiction and nonfiction for each level, and the writing language structures for each language level. Teachers worked together in their language level groups and reviewed all of the materials for target objectives #1 and #2 for all four language levels. To see our presentation, click here.

In February and March, we continued to define our target objective 3 and collect student work. We discussed the importance of identifying different text structures and also the importance of helping our students apply these structures to gain comprehension of the texts they are reading. We developed a table of specifications and created multiple choice assessments for levels 1-4. We also found texts at each language proficiency level representative of these various text structures. Students will read, identify the text structure, and write a short summary to demonstrate proficiency . To see our presentation for March, click here.

At our final PLC in April, we shared all of the work we completed this year. We reviewed all three target objectives, the table of specifications for each objective, and the assessments we created. We also shared the docushare folders for all of our work this year. We discussed our goals for next year and our curriculum plans. We plan to meet as a district group next year and use the 5 step data teams process. We will use the target objectives and pre-test students in each level, then group them as proficient, close to, far from, and needing intensive support. We will identify strategies, set goals, implement strategies, and use assessments to determine student progress. We will use our benchmark assessments for our summative assessments of language proficiency each quarter. To see our presentation, click here.

Language Acquisition Considerations when Assessing ELL’s Reading Proficiency

DRA, LRP, Benchmark Books…whatever name they go by, the bottom line of each of these reading assessments is to hopefully allow teachers to get a better understanding of students’ reading proficiency.

ELL students have extra steps when they read.  Not only do they have to think about the code of the language and actually reading and pronouncing words (phonics and phonemics) but, they also have to negotiate the language structures in text, and use them to create meaning and understanding (semantics, syntax, and comprehension).  And do all this in a language that isn’t their first!  Phew!  That is a lot for them to think about!

With that in mind, then, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when doing and examining these assessments with ELLs.

First, look carefully at the students’ oral reading proficiency assessment.  If they are making errors, what do those errors tell you?  Are they language errors like dropped endings, mispronunciation, or trouble with certain language structures?  Or are they skill-based errors like phonics miscues or trouble with sight words?  What do those errors tell you about the student’s English language proficiency?  How can you use that knowledge to continue to address both language-based and skill-based instruction in their guided reading groups?

Second, what does the comprehension piece of the reading assessment tell you?  Did they pass the reading accuracy and fluency portion of the assessment but struggle on the comprehension?  If so, then they will require explicit instruction on how to slow down, read for meaning, and check themselves to make sure they are understanding text.  Did they pass the comprehension portion but had a low fluency rate (reading rate)?  What is the reason behind that?  Were they reading word-by-word and struggling with decoding?  Or were they simply reading slowly because they were going through a meaning-making process and working hard to make sense of text?  We want to make sure that we are placing ELLs in guided reading groups where they are comprehending text.  This may mean that their instructional reading level is higher than their fluency level (reading rate) might dictate.  We want them to be reading at this instructional level, as we continue to work on reading fluency through guided reading and other portions of their days.

If you’d like to talk more about looking at reading assessments through an ELL lens, please contact your building’s ELL Coach!  We can share the language acquisition perspective and talk about how to use those assessments to guide reading instruction with ELL in mind.

To get a closer “how to” look at giving a DRA, LRP, or Benchmark Book to an ELL student check out the ISELL post A How-Two Guide to Assessing Reading Proficiency with ELLs which tells you all about it!