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