Voices Vol 41 No 4


"To Exit or Not to Exit?" — That is The Question

By Monica Schnee

The new school year is beginning to take shape. Last year's kindergartners are now first graders. Many have exited our programs and many are continuing to receive services.

By now, the ACCESS Test scores have been checked for any errors and we are sharing what the scores mean instructionally with the classroom teachers. We are showing them what our students are able to do with the English language as we explain the CAN DO Descriptors and encourage them to see our students through our eyes.

As I analyze the scores, I am not surprised by what I see. My students scored in the range that I had anticipated. However, every year I have to sit down and carefully think about whether the scores truly reflect the growth my students show between the end of March [when the test is administered] and June. This year, more than in the past, my students did extremely well in the Listening and Speaking domains but there were some who were not developmentally ready to read and write. Consequently, their overall score was adversely affected. The more I administer the test, and the more I learn about the spectrum of skills kindergartners possess, how second language acquisition develops at this age, and what is expected, versus realistic grade level skills, the more I realize that in Kindergarten the literacy score is not necessarily a measure of how much language and oral language development kindergartners have. Yes, it is wonderful for our students to reach the 4.5 composite overall score. At this level, not being able to decode does not indicate that students are not ready to follow multi-step directions, listen to a story, retell it in sequence, identify characters, settings, problems and solutions, make inferences and then share their thoughts using language that has the discourse complexity, the language forms and functions and  the academic vocabulary of those students who are ready to exit.

I have found that a number of my students scored a 6.0 in the Listening and Speaking domains but a 1.8 and 2.2 in reading and writing. Since exit determinations are based on multiple criteria, I would suggest we look at how much English language these students have, what is the depth and breadth of their vocabulary, and whether they truly need our support to develop skills, not language acquisition. Also, keep in mind that there are a few students who are "decoding machines"' who can copy and write well because they have those skills. Yet, they lack the ability to follow a story in its entirety and are not able to discuss what the story is about or communicate their inferences using rich vocabulary and correct language forms.

So between now and October 15th, let's make sure that those students whom we exit, even though they might not have scored high in literacy, remain in their classrooms because they do not need language support to thrive, they need maturation and skill mastery. For those who have skill mastery but who are still not able to take risks with language or communicate effectively, our ESL Classrooms continue to be the right place
for them to be.

Monica Schnee teaches in the River Edge School District. She is the Bilingual/ESL Early childhood / Pre-K - K Representative. She may be reached at
mschnee@njtesol-njbe.org  or monicaschnee@mac.com