Creating an Effective Data Reporting System for ELLs

In this excerpt from Assessment and ESL: An Alternative Approach (Portage and Main, 2007), authors Barbara Law and Mary Eckes walk through the process of designing a successful reporting system for English language learners (ELLs).

They explain different steps of the process, including deciding who the audience for different sets of data will be and how the information will be used.

School Study: A New ELL Population

Systemizing Information

Reporting-System Objectives

Designing a system for reporting the appropriate information to each stakeholder can be overwhelming from the outset. How do we fashion a system that gives each stakeholder a clear picture of how a student is doing? To begin, a reporting system should:

  • Recognize, acknowledge, and give credit by differing methods (report cards, grades, and so on) for what students have achieved and experienced in a range of contexts
  • Increase students' awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, and provide encouragement and opportunities to enhance motivation and personal development
  • Help schools support the development of students' diverse talents and skills
  • Provide a summary document of a student's qualities and achievements that can be used by others (Burgess, 1993)

This is a tall order and will not be achieved overnight or without struggle. But we have to begin somewhere. To design a successful reporting system, some key issues must first be resolved.

  • What information is useful to report to stakeholders?
  • How will the information be gathered?
  • How will the information be used?
  • How will the information be judged?

Steps for Compiling Information

1. Establish your system

For more information on presenting information to the stakeholders, see the rest of Chapter 9 from Assessment and ESL: An Alternative Approach.

Mindamon began by creating a file for each student in which to keep the data the teachers would accumulate. This also got them thinking about the students whose work would fill the folders. At this stage, the folders were not portfolios — selected collections of student work chosen specifically as assessment samples. They were merely files designed to hold relevant information about a student.

2. Decide who the audiences are for the files

The Mindamon school district had to decide who the file was for.

  • The mainstream teacher, for monitoring progress
  • The part-time ESL teacher
  • The administration
  • Next year's mainstream teacher
  • The students themselves

The question of accessibility raised other issues.

  • Who would have access to the file?
  • At the end of the school year, how much of the contents would stay in the classroom?
  • How much of the contents would go home with the student?
  • How much of the contents would remain in the file to follow the student into the next year?

Different audiences need different information. Winograd (1991) points out:

Assessment can be tailored to its stakeholders by recognizing that assessment data serves different audiences with differing agendas. With more specific information available, the stakeholders can make their decisions based on the accumulated data they need: administrators can determine if programs are successful or other forms of support are indicated; teachers can better shape their teaching; parents can gain specific insight into their children's progress as learners; and students can focus on where they have succeeded and what areas need attention.

Mindamon decided to create three subfolders for each student: the mainstream teacher's folder, the ESL teacher's folder, and the cumulative folder. The two teachers' folders — the working folders — represented the first level of work, an ongoing collection of student work. The cumulative folder represented selections from the two working folders.

3. Define the purposes of the student file

It is crucial to shape the data and keep the folder from becoming simply a pile of papers that has no form or meaning to anyone. Its purposes, therefore, must be clearly defined. What best illustrates the type of instruction and learning taking place? You must decide whether anecdotes, writing samples, reading records, checklists, or other methods will best demonstrate competency for a particular audience. This step goes hand-in-hand with defining the audiences. Hebert (2001) writes that in an effort to counterbalance standardized test scores (or even to prove them wrong), teachers often feel compelled to put only a student's best work into his portfolio. This is something you have to decide for yourself: do you include only the best work, work that gives an accurate picture of what a student can accomplish over a range of tasks, or something else? For ESL students, for example, Mindamon teachers felt it was important that data:

  • demonstrate growth and gains over time
  • demonstrate mastery of skills and content
  • provide an authentic and concrete picture of students' capabilities
  • help students become self-reflective
  • provide concrete support for bringing about change
  • shift the focus from negative indicators to those of positive achievement

4. Decide which areas of the quad you will use to show progress and mastery

The Mindamon ESL and classroom teachers had to decide on which areas of the Quad (see image below) to concentrate. They felt it was better to start slowly and build as they got accustomed to this kind of collecting and reporting.

The Quad

Researchers Anthony et al. (1991) developed a complex framework called "The Quad" as a guide for knowing where to look to find answers to that all-important question of how students are doing. This framework encompasses all types of testing in an effort to counterbalance the effects of large-scale, high-stakes tests.

The Quad

Observation of Process

Students immersed in:

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing

Observation of Product

  • Audiotapes
  • Selected pages from notebooks or journals
  • Reading logs
  • Writing folders
  • Group-work logs
  • Projects
  • Learning logs
  • Homework

Classroom Measures

  • Text-related activities
  • Teacher-made tests
  • Comprehension questions

Decontextualized Measures

  • Criterion-referenced tests
  • District exams
  • Provincial or state exams

Following is a sample table of contents for a complete student file. Choose from this list according to your individual needs, available time, and feasibility. Do not feel obligated to include everything; select what is right for you. You may decide to divide the files according to the Quad: process, product, classroom measures, decontextualized measures (mandated tests and exams). It is important not to become too rigid about what goes into them:

  • Cover sheet
  • Contents list
  • Student personal data/attendance record
  • Placement records
  • Assessment of reading comprehension (running records)
  • List of books read
  • Student reading and writing surveys
  • Student work samples
  • Tests
  • Standardized test scores
  • Checklist of skills learned
  • Student progress reports: objectives taught/met
  • Areas needing work
  • Student profiles from previous grades
  • Dated-entry record of parent contact
  • Parent-teacher conference reports
  • Self-evaluation

The teachers at Mindamon chose to include the following in each of the three subfolders:

The mainstream teacher's folder

This included student work done in the mainstream classroom, charting progress in reading, writing, language arts, and in content areas. The elementary and secondary language-arts teachers decided to begin by collecting the following from each student:

  • A reading log
  • Four writing samples, one from each quarter of the school year
  • A running record for reading
  • A record of student conferences
  • Benchmarks for the grade level and indicators of which ones had been reached

The ESL teacher's folder

This included student work done during ESL time, charting progress in English proficiency. The file included:

  • Checklists of vocabulary learned
  • Writing samples
  • Work samples from the themes covered
  • ESL standards checklists and records of which ones had been mastered

The cumulative folder

This folder included the information the school kept in its cumulative record as well as a student portfolio. The latter, assembled at the end of the year by the mainstream and ESL teachers, demonstrated mastery of skills and content, and showed what the student had accomplished during that year so that the next year's teacher knew where to begin. The cumulative folder stayed with the school or was sent with the student if he moved. The cumulative folder included:

  • Student personal-information records
  • Home-language survey
  • Additional assessment reports
  • Data such as grades
  • Standardized placement test scores
  • A student portfolio including
  • Vocabulary checklist
  • Narrative reports of semester progress
  • Reading inventory
  • Student work samples, including one written sample that included a rough and a final draft
  • Parent-teacher conference report

5. Decide how each piece of evidence will be used

Evidence in the folder might be used

  • to retain or pass a student
  • to assign grades
  • for reclassifying a student
  • to show growth
  • to demonstrate mastery of standards

6. Decide how to present the data

Mindamon teachers knew that data had to be valuable to the stakeholders, so they tried to determine at what point data loses its meaning. They discovered that there are many ways to put collected information into clear and readable form for interested audiences, including through narratives, checklists, portfolios comprised of work samples, student self-evaluations, and so on.

7. Decide how to evaluate folder contents

You need to ask

  • Has this student met, or made progress toward, his goals?
  • Does this evidence document that progress?
  • If not, what clearer or better evidence will document mastery and progress?


Our policy section is made possible by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation. The statements and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.


Law, B. and Eckes, M. Assessment and ESL: An Alternative Approach. Excerpt from Chapter 9, "Presenting Information to the Stakeholders." Pgs. 217-222. Winnipeg: Portage and Main, 2007. Reprinted with permission.


Anthony, R. et al. Evaluating Literacy: A Perspective for Change. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991.

Burgess, R. (ed). Educational Research and Evaluation: For Policy and Practice? Washington, DC: Falmer Press, 1993.

Hebert, E. The Power of Portfolios: What Children Can Teach Us about Learning and Assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Winograd, P. et al. "Improving the Assessment of Literacy." Reading Teacher 45, 2 (October 1991): 108-16.


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