This last week, during my planning periods I’ve been helping to administer the WIDA test. The WIDA test measures the speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills of English Language Learners, aka all of my students. Students are scored on a scale of 1-6 with a one meaning that they are unable to communicate in English and a six meaning that their English skills are comparable to a native speaker.
They’d already done all components of their tests except for the speaking part, so I ran through that section with a few of them. Even though it’s been almost a year, there were still a few students that I haven’t gotten to know extremely well yet. As much as I hate to admit it, with as many kids as we have and as difficult as it is for some of them to communicate in English my personal relationships with some students isn’t ideal.
And that’s why WIDA testing turned out to be such an eye opening experience.
I tested students that I had myriad preconceptions of and time after time those assumptions were turned on their heads.
For example, I’ve got one girl in my second hour that I thought to myself, “why am I even testing her? She knows this stuff.” She’s an exemplary writer and a hardworking student, someone who hasn’t gotten in trouble once all year and who turns in complex essays. And yet, when we got to some of the more difficult passages, she struggled mightily with using technical language or adapting to use jargon she’d never heard before.
I’ve got another student who’s gang-affiliated and not at all interested in school. In class, he’s not loud or disruptive, but convincing him that a particular day’s assignment is meaningful has been a challenge. I knew he wasn’t great with his English, but I always attributed his propensity to answer in clipped phrases to be more the result of a bad attitude rather than a lack of proficiency. However, in asking him to point things out to me in a controlled, individualized setting, I realized that he truly does not know how to speak using any sort of vocabulary outside of what he hears his peers use every day.
It’s frustrating to make these realizations this late in the year and, unfortunately, it’s something that I merely have to chalk up to experience that will better serve me next year. It’s a weird feeling, knowing that in many ways my kids this year got the short end of the stick (yet again) as a necessary sacrifice that will make me into a (more) effective teacher next year.