LEP student learning struggles: Language or disability assessment
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Limited English proficient (LEP) students struggle with academic and content-area concepts. When these students have lower proficiency levels and show little to no increase in their English academic abilities, it sets off a red flag to content-area teachers. LEP student struggles within the content area could be a result of not having developed academic English yet, or could be a result of an unidentified disability.
Content-area teachers are not always versed in the knowledge or skills to determine the exact cause of their LEP student academic struggles. LEP students are often referred to special education screening meetings. These students may or may not have a disability.
Often LEP students are screened and inappropriately classified with disabilities. This happens when educators do not understand the difference between conversational English (basic interpersonal communication skills, or BICS) and academic English (cognitive academic language proficiency, or CALP).
ESL teachers must work closely with content-area teachers and educators involved in the student data collection, study and intervention processes to make sure LEP student struggles receive proper review. Proper review will make sure LEP students receive the correct assessment and consideration for response to intervention measures.
One way to assess LEP learning struggles is to assess students' BICS and CALP abilities. An ESL teacher can develop a questionnaire assessment to hand out to each content-area teacher that works with the struggling LEP student. Each content-area teacher can fill out the questionnaire using his or her observations of the student's performance in class. This questionnaire will be a part of the data collection and screening process.
If the student consistently demonstrate BICS abilities but poor CALP abilities across content areas, then his or her learning struggles are most likely due to limited English language proficiency. However, if the student consistently demonstrates poor CALP and BICS abilities across content areas, then his or her learning struggles could be a result of an unidentified disability.
Students who show poor BICS and CALP will need to be further screened for signs of disabilities. Applying response to intervention methods for the student either way is important to ensure the student's academic growth within his or her ability and means.
Creating a separate BICS and CALP checklist questionnaire for content-area teachers to fill out is easy and not too time-consuming for ESL teachers. When creating the questionnaire, it’s best to list individual skills by language proficiency domain.
For example, all skill sets that include listening English acquisition will be listed under a "listening" header. Individual skill sets for each language domain (listening, speaking, reading and writing) will be listed in separate categories. Customize these main categories to fit your English language teaching needs or overall English language teaching needs at your school.
You can design your questionnaires however you choose, but the rating system should measure whether a student demonstrates a skill at grade-level proficiency level. The rating system should include marks that show if a student has mastered a skill set at grade level or not. You can also include an “N/A” mark in the rating system for skills that may not be applicable to every content area the student takes. Here is an example of rating marks: Demonstrates task: +, -, or N/A.
The BICS questionnaire can include components like the following:
- Follows directions to basic and common tasks.
- When asked, can point to classroom items.
- Able to sort according to characteristics (size, shape, color, etc.).
- Able to sort or show family relationships.
- Able to sort or show physical or emotional attributes.
- Shows understanding of common school activities.
- Able to give commands or general directions.
- Able to greet in English with common greetings.
- Able to name classroom objects.
- Able to describe general attributes of objects or animals.
- Able to describe physical or emotional attributes of people.
- If given a picture of a common activity, is able to describe what is happening.
- Able to count, site alphabet and other general common related tasks.
- Able to share general information to people.
- Able to recognize and follow common signs.
- Able to recognize or follow common advertising logos or basic general descriptions.
Note: Writing is not included in the BICS assessment because it is an academic task.
The CALP questionnaire can include components like the following:
- Able to follow directions for specific academic tasks according to benchmarks.
- Able to show understand academic vocabulary on grade level according to curriculum guides and benchmarks.
- Able to understand lessons, teacher discussions, main idea and supporting details of subject content.
- Able to understand temporal tasks and prepositions.
- Able to understand reading on grade level according to guides and benchmarks.
- Able to show auditory understanding of subject content (audios, videos, presentations) according to guides and benchmarks.
- Able to ask and answer questions on grade level according to grade-level content guides and benchmarks.
- Able to use academic vocabulary in appropriate contexts according to grade-level guides and benchmarks.
- Able to verbally distinguish and show temporal concepts and prepositions.
- Able to ask for clarification of academic content-area tasks.
- Able to express one's opinion during academic content discussions.
- Able to participate in content-area discussions in class.
- Able to verbally speak about and/or recite academic content according to grade-level guides and benchmarks.
- Able to volunteer to answer content specific academic questions demonstrating benchmarks.
- Able to share information with higher order thinking according to grade-level benchmarks. (verbal predictions, inferences, connections, retelling, and other content-area tasks).
- Able to recognize and read sounds and words according to grade-level standards and benchmarks.
- Able to use the spatial skills of reading text according to grade-level standards and benchmarks.
- Able to read following punctuation according to grade-level guides.
- Able to recognize and read numbers according to grade-level guides and benchmarks.
- Able to read appropriate subject content on grade level following DRAs or other reading assessment measures.
- Able to use reading as a process through speech-to-print relations and syllables according to grade-level guides and benchmarks.
- Able to follow along (according to grade-level guides and benchmarks) with content-area reading: read-alouds, choral reading or peer reading.
- Able to use text (indexes, glossaries, etc.) according to grade-level guides and benchmarks.
- Shows interest in and is able to read in groups and individual reading times.
- Able to use sounds, blends, sight words, academic words, etc. to write on grade level, specific to the content area according to benchmarks.
- Able to express oneself with written form according to content area and grade-level benchmarks.
- Able to write sentences using correct syntax, punctuation, spelling, etc. according to grade-level guides and benchmarks.
- Able to write through grade level and subject-related dictated means.
- Able to demonstrate writing abilities of content-area concepts on grade level using higher order thinking.
- Able to use skills to write and type legibly, following adequate forms and skills according to curriculum guides and grade-level benchmarks.
- Able to write with spatial constraints of print and writing (front of paper, lines, left to right, and top to bottom).
- Demonstrates mechanics of writing according to curriculum guides and grade-level benchmarks.
- Shows an interest in expressing oneself through various forms of writing.
To monitor LEP student progress, it is important to have content-area teachers fill out a BICS and CALP questionnaire several times over a specified time frame. By doing so, student data can be collected and tracked to determine if he or she continually shows little to no improvements in BICS and/or CALP English development.
If a student shows little to no improvement in the data collected, then the student probably will need intervention. Final determination of response to intervention measures should be determined by a collaborating team across content areas. This assures cohesion in the plan to best maximize the student's chance for success with the interventions.
Creating a BICS and CALP questionnaire helps assess student interventions and identifications. One important thing to note is that ESL teachers should work with content-area teachers to make sure they are using scaffolding and differentiated instructional strategies within their content areas. If the a student continually shows BICS abilities across content areas but little CALP development, the content-area teacher's instructional strategies may not be adequate for LEP student academic learning.
When ESL teachers and content-area teachers collaborate closely together, the cause of LEP student learning struggles can then be targeted and properly intervened.
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