On May 23, Diana Delaney (a friend on Twitter) created a private direct message to Carol Salva, Emily Francis (two other Twitter friends) and me. Like many teachers, Diana was struggling with how to report on grades with newcomers.  After a series of messages back and forth between the four of us, Emily provided an amazing perspective that I wanted to share with you.

I’ve asked Emily to guest post on this important topic.  As teachers start to return to school from their summer vacations, this article can help guide their assessing and reporting year round.

Let’s Go a Step Further with Can Do Descriptors!

As an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher, my job is to analyze my students’ needs and develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English-speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. My goal is to help them achieve a proficient level of English that allows them to function independently in their classrooms, and in society in the future.

To help me accomplish my goal and perform my job as an ESL teacher I have the WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment). North Carolina is part of the WIDA consortium of states dedicated to the design and implementation of standards and equitable educational opportunities for English Learners (ELs). As an ESL teacher, I use WIDA standards along with Common Core State Standards to:

  1. Meet the language needs of ELs who place in the program based on an initial placement assessment;  
  2. Assign ELs their appropriate accommodations and modifications based on their determined proficiency levels; 
  3.  Ensure scaffolded instruction for ELs by supporting mainstream classroom teachers in building and differentiating instruction and assessments.  

Undoubtedly, one immeasurable reward I find in being an ESL teacher is seeing my students reach a high proficiency level of English and to be able to function independently in core instruction. So, merging my personal experiences as an EL with my obligations as an educator, I see the critical need and responsibility to serve as an advocate for my students. Thus, I use the WIDA Can Do Descriptors!

The Can DO Descriptors provide a clear and basic overview of ELs’ ability based on their initial or annual language proficiency test. This powerful document highlights what our ELs CAN do at various stages of the language development and for each language domain as they interact with core content.

I encourage you to take advantage of these valuable documents that by the way are free through the WIDA website. Even if your state is not a WIDA state, these documents can be a great tool not only for you as an ESL teacher, but also for mainstream classroom teachers, students, and parents!

Allow me to share with you a few ways I use the CAN Do Descriptors at my school, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to go a step further with these documents.

TIP #1: Share the CAN Do Descriptors with Mainstream Classroom Teachers.

At the beginning of the each school year, I gather all the teachers at my school and we go over ACCESS, CAN DOs, accommodations, and modifications. For teacher buy in, I make sure my presentation is fun and engaging. I begin by giving them the acronym ‘ACCESS’ (Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State) and they have to guess as a group what each letter stands for.

Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State

The group who gets most letters correct gets a small price! Teachers learn how to read their students’ language proficiency levels and use the CAN Do name charts to chart each student in his/her corresponding proficiency level for each language domain. 

Teachers understand that even though students receive a proficiency composite score, it’s imperative to see which domain is the student’s strength and/or weakness to better support during instruction. Teachers also receive this document that provides linguistic accommodations teachers can use to support students access core without having to water down content. This other document is also helpful since it provides Bloom’s Taxonomy questions differentiated by language proficiency level.  

TIP #2: Share the CAN DO Descriptors with your Students.

This year I started sharing with my students not only their ACCESS scores but also the CAN DO Descriptors. I never thought how exciting this would be for all my students. They all loved looking at their scores and charting their name on the appropriate proficiency level for each language domain. You could hear students say: “Look, I am really high in speaking!” or “Look, I really need to work on my writing.”  

Students received two highlighters, one to highlight the current CAN DO statements, and another one to highlight the goal we set for next school year. Their CAN DO chart is glued in their daily notebook so when we used them they can see it and be encouraged. Next school year, I will be using these student-friendly CAN DO charts. Not only are they colorful, but they’re much better for them to read and understand.

I believe without a doubt that students need to be explicitly taught the expectation we have of them from the very beginning. My students understand that their teacher, their parents, and I know exactly what they can and cannot do. They have a clear understanding and a visual of where they are linguistically and where my goal is for them to be by the end of the school year. They know that I will be reporting quarterly to teachers and parents how they are progressing toward their language proficiency goals.

WIDA Can Do Descriptors student print out

Karen’s CAN Do chart


TIP #3: Share the CAN DO Descriptors with Parents:

Yes, you read this right…share it with your student’s parents! The CAN DO Descriptors are such a powerful tool for teachers and students that this year I decided to start sharing it with parents through a progress report format.

Let me elaborate. When I get my students’ ACCESS scores, I analyze each and every student’s data to determine their school year language goal. It’s really all about getting to know your students to better support them in the language domains they need it most.

For example: If Emily’s ACCESS report states that she made a 3 in speaking, then her goal for the year would be to master the 3 and make it to a 4. If she made a 2 in reading, her goal for the year would be a 3…so on and so forth. If a student makes a 5 or 6, then there is no goal assigned for that domain since the student had shown mastery on the domain. A student could have 1 – 4 goals depending on his/her language proficiency.

In order to have parent support in helping their child grow linguistically and academically, I provide them with a quarterly progress report that lets them know how they are doing throughout the year. Teachers may also get this report if they wish to see how their student is doing in ESL. I make the effort to honor my students’ family language by translating their progress reports.

WIDA has the descriptors available in Spanish if you wish to use them! I know for a fact that our parents would appreciate receiving such valuable document in their native language. Take a look at this example!  

Example of Can Do Descriptor reports for newcomers

Our county is fortunate to use ELLevation, an online platform that houses our ELs’ data information and provides language strategies. It is through this platform that we can assign students’ language goals and note their progress. The ELLevation goal bank offers goals for newcomers as well! This allows me to provide a report for students who are just entering the language proficiency levels spectrum. It also gives me an idea of what I should be focusing on students who are new to the English language.

These are the progress reports I use. Feel free to access, edit, and use as you like. I won’t lie to you…it takes some work to put them together but in the end, it is all worth it because you’re providing accurate and helpful information to your students, teachers, and parents. You can download the progress reports here:

As you can see, there is so much we can get out of such a valuable document such as the Can Do Descriptors! Now you know that not only is a tool that we can use as ESL teachers to support the students we serve, but it CAN be so much more!

Our students CAN DO…Let’s show that they can! If you are on Twitter, join us by posting ELLs’ success stories using #ELs_CAN so we can celebrate with you!