Voices Vol 41 No 3



Wrapping Up the Spring Conference

By Monica Schnee

This year I had the opportunity to present two different workshops at the Spring Conference. The Wednesday workshop, WIDA, The Instrument to Use, offered a great chance for me to hear about how districts screen and place their ELLs. This is my second year presenting on the different assessment tools and why I believe that we should all be using the WIDA MODEL for placement. The workshop focused on Kindergarten but the rationale applies to all grades. Since the handouts are available online, with all the information on the different tools approved by the state, the cut off scores for each tool and all other legalities, I just want to take this opportunity to share some of the issues that came out of the workshop.

Too many districts are still using the MAC and IPT: these two tools are quick but antiquated, not child friendly, do not measure higher order thinking skills and by no means correlate to the ACCESS. IT IS TIME TO RETIRE THEM. I heard that some supervisors are happy to use them because of time constraints when there are so many children to screen and place. Yes, there are many districts that have moved to the free downloadable W-APT. This is a much more reliable screener. However, it has no manipulative, it is not child friendly and does not correspond with the ACCESS scoring. Since the MODEL is much more reliable, comprehensive and in-depth screener, more children will place into the program. This is important! Please, try to convey the importance of offering our ELLs the best chances to learn and succeed. As much as districts have to deal with time issues, not enough ESL teachers to administer screeners and scheduling and placement conflicts, in the end, WE OWE IT TO OUR POPULATION.

We are a WIDA member state. That means that we align our instruction to the WIDA Standards; we use CAN DO Descriptors not only for own our instruction but also to guide teachers in the mainstream classrooms; we use the ACCESS Test to show our students’ growth, the annual measurable achievement objectives (AMAO). So at this point, as NCLB is being waived, some of our students are still not being placed with tools that are consistent with the truly measurable and reliable exit criterion. As ESL professionals, we must advocate for our students. Please try your best to use the WIDA MODEL for all grades.

The Thursday workshop,  Oral Language and Literacy Through Character Studies, was incredibly well attended given the fact that it was at the same time as Jim Cummins on Skype and two other literacy workshops by “big names”. We were worried that we would have few participants but were excited to share our experiences. We had 80 participants who asked great questions and offered insightful practices. My co-presenter, Cathy Danahy, and I had a wonderful time engaging with the teachers, sharing our practices and our students’ work. The most important thing that we both took out of this workshop is the importance of collaborating with other educators. She is the literacy coach in our district and through our collaboration, she has learned the key role that language and second language acquisition play in literacy. I have learned innumerable literacy strategies, I have become familiar with quality authentic literature and we have both been able to extend our experience to the mainstream classroom teachers. Our collaboration has therefore, gone beyond the four walls of my classroom and is now a part of Cathy’s coaching when she works with classroom teachers. The most important lesson that we have both learned is that the ESL teacher must be able to give the literacy coach insight on how ELLs learn. If that can be done, our students will be the beneficiaries and those American students with low oral language development will be able to take advantage of that same insight.

Thank you to all of those participants for validating our work!

If you have not been able to find the handouts, here is the link to each of them:

The WIDA Model for Kindergarten
Oral Language & Literacy through Character Studies

As summer is quickly approaching, take some time to think of how you will be placing your students, look at those ACCESS scores to make sure that they are correct so you can make your exit decisions, and think of collaborating with other professionals in your district.

Every year, I have a “Picnic Lunch” with all my kindergartners and their parents. It gives us all a chance to say goodbye to my students’ first year in school and to get to know each other better. Here is a picture of my dear Kindergartners.



Monica Schnee, PreK-Kindergarten SIG, River Edge School District