The ELL Plateau: An “Aha Moment”

At the VSRA last week I went to a fabulous session about what to do with English Language Learners who “plateau” and don’t seem to make growth anymore. These are students who have been in the US for ages but stopped improving their reading and writing on the WIDA. The WIDA scores range from 1-6. Students who plateau seem to get stuck in levels 2-4 and stop making growth. They stay at the same level for years, or even worse, digress. The (wonderful) presenters described their students and I instantly thought of many of my own students who fit their description perfectly.

Then the presenters said something interesting. 65% of their ELLs were born in the US. They are considered ELLs because they did not speak English as their first language. Most of these students, according to the presenters, are living in poverty.

This made me wonder how much of the plateau effect has to do with being an English Language Learner, and how much it has to do with the same literacy gap that many native English speaking students in poverty seem to experience.

I then wondered how many of my native born students who struggle with reading (many of whom live in poverty) would perform on the WIDA? If we tested their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, would they plateau? Would it show that they also stop making growth after a certain point? Could they make it to level 5?

I’m almost certain that many of my native speaking students would have a difficult time earning the elusive “6” needed on the WIDA to be move out of the program.


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