Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Online Sample Items



WIDA is excited to present the new interactive ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Online Sample Items for the Public (SIPs)! WIDA, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and Data Recognition Corporation have created these new SIPs to provide stakeholders with information about the look and feel of the new online ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 assessment. The new Sample Items were developed to show the test content and language demands that may be found on the actual ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 test.

To access the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Online Sample Items, open the link, https://wbte.drcedirect.com/WIDA/portals/wida, in a Chrome browser.


You can download instructions for accessing the online SIPs and screenshots of the online SIPs on the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Test Preparation Resources page of the WIDA website.

Image from CreativeCommons

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Improving Teacher Prep

By Heather Jung

Improving public education hinges on hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers, but this is not a task that we have been successful at as a country. Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year (The Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014). While some of these teachers are retiring or moving for family reasons, many of them are new teachers who have just entered the profession.  The first year of teaching is hard and “even those who make it beyond the trying first year aren't likely to stay long: about 30 percent of new teachers flee the profession after just three years, and more than 45 percent leave after five”  (Graziano, 2005).  Idealistic young teachers leave college enthusiastic about making a difference in the lives of their students and then quickly become burnt-out.

Much of the fault for this high turnover rate for new teachers lies with dysfunctional teacher preparation programs in universities.  Other countries do not have the high turnover rate that we have here; for example in Finland “their teacher dropout rate is impressively low: 90 percent of trained teachers remain in the profession for the duration of their careers” (Zeichner, 2012). To be fair our teachers face more challenging classrooms than teachers in Finland, but we can improve our burn-out rate if we raise the standards for entrance into pre-service teaching programs and create programs that truly prepare pre-service teachers for life in the public schools.

The standards for getting into the teaching program need to be higher.  In countries with low teacher turnover, getting into pre-service programs in is extremely competitive.  This is something we can easily replicate.  If a student cannot maintain at least a 3.0 GPA by their sophomore year, they should not be allowed to continue in the pre-service program. 



We also need to look at the professors teaching pre-service programs.  Many of these professors have not taught a full-year in a public school in over ten years.  The populations in our school have changed significantly in the past 10 years; as have the demands put on teachers.  In order to stay relevant, professors need to cycle back to public school classroom teaching (for a full school year, not just a visit) every 3 to 5 years.

Pre-service teachers need to spend more time in public schools, especially in the high-poverty schools (where they are most likely to work after graduation).  In many pre-service programs, student teaching is relegated to the last semester of senior year and is in a middle-class suburban “cupcake” school.   This experience does not replicate the pressures that new teachers will face when they go out into the field.  To get a real sense of the profession they will be entering, pre-service teachers need to spend 2 full school years (not college years) working in the public schools: the first year in a “cupcake” school, and the second in a Title 1 or Special Education setting.  There are no ideal classrooms in the real world.  Pre-service teachers need to experience the true pressures of the public school system while they still have the support of the university.   They need to have the opportunity to go out and experience what really happens in classrooms while meeting with university staff regularly over 2 years.  There they can have a support system with which to discuss why they are seeing situations that are not ideal and to determine how they can face and challenge the status quo when they have their own classrooms.  In this way we can develop new teachers that are prepared to go out and be a positive force to move the profession forward.

Works Cited

Graziano, C. (2005, February 9). Public Education Faces a Crisis in Teacher Retention. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/new-teacher-burnout-retention

The Alliance for Excellent Education. (2014, July 14). Teacher Attrition Costs United States Up to $2.2 Billion Annually, Says New Alliance Report. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from http://all4ed.org/: http://all4ed.org/press/teacher-attrition-costs-united-states-up-to-2-2-billion-annually-says-new-alliance-report/

Zeichner, N. (2012, December 21). Lesson From Finland on Teacher Retention. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from Education Week Teacher: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_ahead/2012/12/lessons_from_finland_on_teacher_retention.html



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Middle Class Parent and “Those Kids”

By Heather Jung


There are many changes that will be occurring at my school over the next few years.  One of which is that our school building is going to be renovated and enlarged (it was built in the 1950s and last renovated in the 1980s).  A significant increase in English Language Learners (ELLs) and students in poverty will come with the expansion.  We are currently at 34% ELL and 55% free/reduced lunch and we expect to be increasing to around 55-65% ELL and 70-80% free/reduced lunch.  These proposed changes to the demographics of our school have created quite a buzz among both staff and parents.  Some parents welcome the opportunity to have a more diverse school, but other parents are adamantly opposed to having “more of those kids” coming to our school.  It shocking to hear parents saying things like:  “they’re ruining our nice neighborhood school” or “those kids are going to drop our home value by $100,000,”statements which are both inflammatory and inaccurate.  I worry about my neediest students facing such prejudiced comments from the very community that is supposed to be supporting them and my school is not alone in facing this problem.

Nationally, “for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation” (Layton, 2015).   The reality of public schools now is that working with students from poverty is the norm, not the exception.  Teachers working in public schools have known and accepted this for years.  Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque said, “When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe” (Layton, 2015).  Stories like Sonya’s have been echoed in classrooms across the country.  You also see them passed around on Facebook, with people commenting on how tragic childhood poverty is.  It is tragic but it is also the reality of the American public school system.  Demographics in this country have changed.  Teachers accepted this years ago.  It is time for parents, communities, and politicians to do the same. Childhood poverty is a reality across the United States, in every community!  It is often hidden within upper-middle class suburban communities.  They need to be supported and embraced by them.  We need to build a culture that understands that fairness is not about giving everyone the same education, but giving everyone the education that they need.  Everyone wants their child to have the best teachers and the best school.  Often middle class parents do not understand why money and resources are shifted to the schools with the neediest students and away from their own children, but a person with a clear understanding of the true meaning of equity realizes that this is the only way to more society forward in an unbiased manner.

Works Cited

Layton, L. (2015, January 16). Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/majority-of-us-public-school-students-are-in-poverty/2015/01/15/df7171d0-9ce9-11e4-a7ee-526210d665b4_story.html



Monday, May 18, 2015

Teacher Leadership and Teach to Lead


By Heather Jung

Beautiful woman writing a motivational concept on a blackboard - stock photo



Teachers, who are working with students every day, have the most important perspective on the issues surrounding education, but are often reticent to make their voices heard when it comes to educational policy issues. The egalitarian nature of the teaching profession can make teachers reluctant to take on leadership roles.  Although most teachers do not want to leave the classroom or become administrators, their integral knowledge of both the community and student learning needs is essential to promoting positive change in our schools.  There has been research, showing that actively involving teacher leaders is the best way to advance the vision of school and district communities.  Teachers who lead from the front of the classroom, rather than leaving it, have the strongest impact on student learning.  Helping teachers recognize that they are leaders, offering them opportunities to develop their leadership skills, and creating school cultures that honor teacher leadership can open up new avenues for providing support and resources to teachers and elevate the level of professionalism surrounding the field of education. Still, many teachers struggle to find their voice on policy issues and appropriate forums for expressing their ideas. Teach to Lead is one avenue that is available to teachers who want to advocate and promote policy change.

Teach to Lead is a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards that was started in the spring of 2014.   Teach to Lead has created an online community called "Commit to Lead."   As a part of this community, teachers summit their ideas addressing current issues in education.  They then use social media and crowdsourcing to promote their concepts. Community members comment and vote on the initiatives that have been submitted.  Teachers whose proposals generate the most conversation are invited to attend various "Teach to Lead" summits where they can collaborate with other teacher leaders, principals, districts, supporter organizations, and state leaders to implement their policies.


Here is a link to a proposal that I have submitted to Commit to Lead:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Assessment 2.0 and the Every Child Achieves Act

By Heather Jung 

Since last July, I have been participating in a program to gather teacher leaders from around my home state of Virginia together to discuss issues on our current educational system.  The program is called: the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching (VCET) and is run through the education program at George Mason University.   As part of this program, I participated in a conference call with Dr. Steve Staples, the superintendant of public education in Virginia.  I found Dr. Staples’ comments very intriguing, especially those regarding realigning and reshaping the assessments and accountability. In Virginia, we have not accepted CCSS.  Instead, we assess based on Standards of Learning (SOLs) set forth by the Virginia Department of Education.   Yet many of the current SOLs are not consistent with the 21st Century Skills that we are trying to instill in our learners and need to be revisited.  Dr. Staples has appointed a committee to revisit the SOLs, but he did not give any specifics about who was on the committee. 

ASSESSMENT word cloud, business concept

Students in Virginia take standardized SOL tests on the computer each year. These tests are used to determine if schools have met annual yearly progress (AYP) and annual measurable objectives (AMO) according NCLB.  Many of our ELL students are eligible to take an alternative portfolio assessment called the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA).  The VGLA portfolio includes gathering evidence demonstrating student performance of the standards.  The students are required to perform 50 to 100 rote tasks and worksheets for documentation.  The rote tasks required for the VGLA take time away from authentic learning tasks that would benefit the students more.  I have heard that portfolio assessments were the great alternative to standardized tests, but when I look at the VGLA portfolio, it does not really meet the instructional needs of my students.

At my school, many students come in 3 years or more below benchmark.  Many of those students make significant progress during the school year, often as much as 1.5 to 2 years of growth.   The administration at my school does a good job of recognizing this achievement in house but, because these students are still not “meeting benchmark,” their progress goes largely ignored at the county and state level.

It seems as though we need to find an Assessment 2.0.  A method, which can track and celebrate the accomplishments of students, and teachers, who are making great growth even if that growth cannot always be measured in a standardized way.

As we look forward to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), now is the time consider how to change our assessment systems. ECAA will require students be assessed every year in grades 3 and up for math and language arts and science (though not as often).  States will have autonomy to choose their assessments as long as they "...involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student academic growth and may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extend performance tasks;" (pg 36).  

This language provides little reassurance that things will change under the new policy, but the bill has not been passed yet! Now is the time to let our voices be heard and demand that changes be made to the old standardized testing systems!      

Monday, February 16, 2015

Teacher Timesavers Reimagined

by Jackie Moreno and Ashley Coblentz

What if students took on more of the “teacher workload” and in the process became more engaged and invested in school?


Instead of running around crazily as stressed-out adults, why not invite students to be a part of the essential work that happens at schools, such as having a say in how schools spend money, plan events, and communicate with parents? We have been thinking about this a lot this year, especially in the midst of new demands placed on educators.

At Sandburg Elementary our principal has branded 2014-15 the “Year of the Student.” This is all about teachers working together to create opportunities for student leadership and ownership of learning. 

Third-graders writing the morning message

"Whoever does the work does the learning" is often said in education. Here are some Sandburg teacher inspired ways to bring this to life in the classroom:

  • Instead of rushing to school early to write a morning message, pass the markers to the students.
  • Instead of hurrying to finish a newsletter on a Friday, have students do it by writing about what they learned that week.
  • Instead of stressing about planning school assemblies, let students take charge. For instance, Sandburg’s fifth grade students lead whole school assemblies where teachers are in the audience and students are front and center.
  • Instead of coordinating field trips, empower student leaders to plan outings by contacting organizations, writing permission slips, and setting up transportation.


One of our students’ favorite experiences this year has been spending thousands of dollars on books for their classroom and school libraries. Due to high poverty, our school is eligible for Title I funding. Historically adults have been in charge of figuring out how this money is spent, but this year each child in our school was in charge of spending fifty dollars at Barnes and Noble to shop for books to fill their classroom libraries. Additionally, students created surveys to determine how the school library budget would be spent.

Before the trip students surveyed their current classroom libraries; created online wish lists within their budgets; and graphed the genres of books selected to decide if their choices supported a balanced classroom library. This culminated in a joy filled day they will always remember and left them with a personal investment in how they care for and engage with their refreshed libraries.  

Turning over the book selection to students connects to reading research around student choice improving academic outcomes and saved teachers hours of time that would have been spent paging through catalogs and placing orders. And after all, the best experts on what kids like to read are kids themselves.

Inviting students to participate in these practical, fun tasks incorporates standards into authentic learning experiences, allowing students to understand how school applies to everyday life, while helping teachers save time. What could you subtract from your to do list, that your students could take on?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Scenes from an Unquiet Classroom


by Ashley Coblentz and Jackie Moreno


Do our students help write the script for learning or do they sit in the audience?
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This is a question we regularly ask ourselves, and although we definitely want to say the former, the true answer is found in how we use our time. As we count down our last days of first quarter, we are at the perfect time of year to take a close look at our daily schedule, to see if the value we place on student-driven learning is truly reflected in our day.

Today we’d like to share one of our favorite projects that fosters student choice and empowerment, student created book trailers! They are multi-media projects that encourage students to take on the roles of writers, actors and directors of learning.
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A Spanish language book trailer created by a third grader.
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Creating in the Classroom

Together teachers and students define which standards will be addressed. Once students demonstrate they clearly understand the purpose, the creative direction of the project is primarily up to them. For example, students might choose the theme, tone, script, etc. Next enters joy and engagement as they compose music, act, illustrate, read and write about what’s most compelling to them. In other words, students decide how they will prove they have learned what they set out to.

In Writing Workshop 2.0, in addition to publishing their narratives digitally, students might print them as well. Then QR codes leading to student-created book trailers advertising their books are placed on the copies. Other QR codes featuring a student read audio book version are placed on the print copy as well. 
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Joy is found not only in the creation; it expands further as they get to share their writing and book trailers with the whole school. This is incredibly powerful for them since it creates a sense of authentic purpose for writing. By creating the trailers and books, students have more access to texts that reflect experiences of other students “like them”. This is a particularly powerful opportunity for ELL students to tell their stories and the stories of their families, especially given mainstream portrayals of immigrant communities.
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How To

1. Students write and publish narratives.

2. The book trailer concept is introduced, and students are given a descriptive rubric. Students use the rubrics to evaluate professional or other student created book the trailers before creating their own so that they know exactly what the CCSS learning goals are and what is expected from them.

3. Students then use iMovie to create book trailers about their stories. Students use the rubric to make sure their trailer includes all of the key components.

4. After that, students use Voice Record Pro to record themselves reading their narratives. They then convert their voice recordings into QR codes so that other students can hear the stories read aloud.

5. Place the books with the QR codes on them in the school library so that students throughout the school can read the print versions and scan the QR codes to access the book trailers, as well as audio versions of the books.