Focus School: Graded, The American School

Graded, The American School, is committed to continuous improvement of the teaching and learning process so all students will have the knowledge, skills, concepts, processes, and attitudes to participate as global citizens. Through the implementation of quality teaching and learning, Graded provides an aligned, robust curriculum. The student body at Graded consists of 50% expats from all of the world and with varying levels of English and 50% Brazilian Nationals. Since 2016, and through the use of WIDA assessments, Graded's identified English as an Additional Language (EAL) population has increased from 67 to 270.

Prior to 2016, Graded faced the challenge of limited criteria for admissions and determining accurate services for EAL students. The method to determine language levels included using the TOFEL in the admissions process, but only for upper school students and teacher recommendations for lower school students. This resulted in limited knowledge of students’ language skills upon admissions, and in many cases, limited the services provided to students without documented needs. More importantly, some of our language learners were mistaken as having a disability. In addition, Graded is a PP-12th grade school and during this time the services that were offered were provided by two teachers for the entire school.

Photo credit: Jon Nordmeyer

The Graded EAL teachers sought an answer for these problems. In 2014-2015, Graded's EAL teachers discovered WIDA International, fully implementing WIDA in 2015. WIDA provided documented language levels that allowed our Admissions team to develop a clear picture of the student applying. WIDA also supported the EAL faculty as they developed appropriate services.

As Graded continued using WIDA, we were able to establish longitudinal program numbers, including language levels. The data established a need, to increase staffing. Prior to working with WIDA, Graded had two EAL teachers. Since 2016, EAL staff has increased from 5.5 full-time equivalents to 7 FTE.

Using the WIDA Can Do Descriptors, program supports were differentiated. EAL students receive services through consultation, co-teaching, and/or small group instruction by our English Language Specialists (ELS) in collaboration with classroom teachers. In the Middle School, EAL creates a supportive and individualized learning environment for our EAL students. These goals are achieved by push-in and small group instruction using formative and summative assessments to personalize lessons for our student’s individual needs.

In the High School, ELL provides explicit language instruction focused on complementing and supporting students’ academic classes in grades 9 and 10. ELL classes support students in developing language proficiency and essential understanding to enhance their academic performance.

Having recognized that in the past students needing EAL support were sometimes exited from a program without criteria, the ELL team worked with counselors and administrators to establish rigorous exit criteria. Now, students must achieve a WIDA level 5.0 in all four areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing to exit the program.

Graded is excited to host a WIDA Institute on February 13-16, 2019. Come join us in São Paulo to learn more about how WIDA can support teaching and learning at your school!

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