Always Learning


Utilizing AIMSweb to Support ELLs within the RTI Process

May 25, 2011

All students, including English language learners (ELLs) benefit when they are part of a learning community in which educators work together to implement the best instructional strategies matched to individual student needs. The RTI process helps to prioritize and support students who need more than just a differentiated core curriculum. ELLs, because of the challenges associated with simultaneously learning English and learning basic academic skills (reading, written expression and math), are frequently at risk for not being successful, even when provided with effective tier one supports. Curriculum-Based Measures (CBMs) are important components in the RTI toolkit that help educators guide instruction, monitor progress of individual students, prioritize students most at risk of not succeeding without multi-tiered supports, and evaluate effectiveness of core instruction and interventions (program evaluation). Studies have shown that CBM in early literacy (Fien, Baker, Smolkowski, Mercier Smith, Kame’enui, & Beck, 2008; Vanderwood, Linklater, & Healy, 2008), as well as oral reading fluency (Baker &Good, 1995; De Ramírez & Shapiro, 2007) are valid and reliable predictors for student success (or weakness) in reading. CBM can provide treatment-relevant information within a comprehensive evaluation when an educational disability is suspected. AIMSweb ® provides materials in English and in Spanish that can be used to address important questions when supporting ELLs with RTI.

Universal Screening

Assessing all students at a given grade level using instructionally relevant measures in the language of instruction helps to predict those students who will struggle most without tiered supports. For literacy, CBMs help to identify basic skills in phonics, phonemic awareness and reading that are essential for functional reading ability. These skills have been shown to be important for native English speakers as well as ELLs (August and Shanahan, 2006). Supports are provided in a timely manner and can be helpful in the process of identifying specific student needs for targeted instruction/intervention. As aimsweb has early literacy measures (MIDE), as well as oral reading fluency measures in Spanish for grades K-8, students who are learning to read in Spanish and in English can be assessed in their language of instruction. For students new to the US, Spanish benchmark aggregate norms provide a means comparing a student’s skills in Spanish to other students in the aimsweb database who were assessed with those Spanish measures. aimsweb also provides data management for Spanish DIBELS (IDEL) measures. It is important to note that when making relative comparisons to ‘true peers’ a thorough understanding of factors such as instructional and language history, as well as acculturation are considered.


Progress Monitoring

Ongoing progress monitoring that is both feasible and sensitive to meaningful change over short periods of time helps facilitate timely instructional adjustments for ELLs and students like them who need a significantly differentiated curriculum and additional support. Given that the evidence-base for effective instructional programs and interventions for ELLs is limited, progress monitoring helps to determine whether approaches used ‘fit’ the individual ELL’s needs. When progress is not evident, modifications can be made in a timely manner until the right student intervention match is found. English measures in reading, writing and math can be very useful to determine progress of ELLs when English is the language of instruction. The first grade English R-CBM passages, as well as Tests of Early Literacy including spelling word lists were translated into Spanish to monitor students who are learning to read and write in Spanish. Although questions remain about setting goals for ELLs with different language/instructional histories, it is important to set ambitious but realistic goals so that ELLs who are behind academically can ‘catch up’ to their native English speaking peers as they acquire English.

In this example, our ELL Sample Student was initially making .3 words per week progress in response to supports provided. At this rate he would not catch up with peers and would be at risk of significant ongoing academic weakness. The last intervention (Return to Intervention 3) was most effective for ELL Sample Student and illustrates a ‘catch up’ rate for oral reading fluency. aimsweb provides slope of improvement ‘scores’ per each intervention period, as well as a means of thoroughly documenting all efforts made to help the student succeed.

Diagnostic Decision-Making

CBM can be useful to understand or ‘diagnose’ student needs (e.g., skill strengths and deficits) and is also helpful within the diagnostic process for students who are suspected of having educational disabilities. Using aimsweb materials qualitatively to examine student skills (e.g., through error analysis) can be helpful for guiding instruction. Students who demonstrate significant weaknesses relative to peers as well as a chronic lack of response to a series of well implemented interventions may require a comprehensive evaluation to fully understand the student’s short term and long term educational needs. Although the considerations necessary for linguistically and culturally fair evaluation goes beyond the scope of this article, consultation with qualified bilingual professionals is best practice as decisions being made based on assessment (e.g., diagnosing educational disabilities) become ‘higher stakes’.

Evaluation of Programs to Meet the Needs of ELLs

Before lack of adequate student progress is attributed to intrinsic student weaknesses, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of core instruction and tiered supports within a school. Results for benchmark assessments typically administered in the fall, winter and spring can be compared to the corresponding aimsweb aggregate norms to see how core instruction at a given grade level ‘stacks up’ with a large aimsweb database of peers across the country. aimsweb now provides criterion ‘cut scores’ that enable educators to predict students, including ELLs, who are more or less likely to pass their next statewide test. aimsweb data management also allows schools to identify students in various demographic categories (ELL/ESL status) and disaggregate data to evaluate skill levels and progress of subgroups of students with similar demographics and or receiving similar interventions.

The following graph illustrates aimsweb’s ability to disaggregate data for subsets of students including those considered ELLs. In this example, both the mean performance and rate of progress for non-ELLs (blue line) in third grade at sample school is below what would be expected based on the national aggregate (red line). It suggests weaknesses in their core instruction. Although performance of ELLs in third grade at this school is below other students locally and nationally, their progress is stronger compared to the other groups (1.1 words per week on average as seen on the corresponding table below).


RTI builds capacity for schools to address needs of English language learners in a timely and effective manner. aimsweb provides a system of reliable and valid assessments, professional development, and data management that helps educators address important questions for ELLs and communicate results that promote meaningful outcomes. Research supports use of CBM for ELLs to identify risk and prioritize students for tiered supports. Progress monitoring allows educators to examine whether differentiated core instruction and interventions are producing desired results, increasing the chances for success for all students including English language learners.

Seth Aldrich, Ph.D. is a bilingual school psychologist, a NY State licensed psychologist and a Certified AIMSweb Trainer. His most recent publication is RTI for English Language Learners (Dude Publishing).


August, D., Shanahan, T. (2006). Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwan, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Baker, S. K., Good, R. (1995). Curriculum-based measurement of English reading with bilingual Hispanic students: A validation study with second grade students. School Psychology Review, 24, 561-579.

De Ramírez, R.D., Shapiro, E.S. (2007). Cross-language relationship between Spanish and English oral reading fluency among Spanish-speaking English language learners in bilingual education classrooms. Psychology in the Schools, 44, p795-806.

Fien, H. Baker, S.K., Smolkowski, K., Mercier Smith, J.L., Kame’enui, E.J., Thomas Beck, C. (2008). Using nonsense word fluency to predict reading fluency in kindergarten through second grade for English language learners and native English speakers. School Psychology Review, 37, pp 391-408.

Vanderwood, M.L., Linklater, D & Healy, K. (2008). Predictive accuracy of nonsense word fluency for English language learners.. School Psychology Review, 37 (1) pp. 5-17.


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