TELPAS TIPS w/ Eugenie Seholm, Diana Birdsong and Anna Love

For this week’s installment of TELPAS TIPS, the ELL EDvocate visited International High School in Austin ISD. For a student population composed entirely of 9th and 10th grade Newcomer ELLs, collecting TELPAS writing samples is an exercise in meticulous organization.

Here IHS teachers (and TELPAS verifiers) Eugenie Seholm, Diana Birdsong, and Anna Love share some of their secrets to success: supporting staff and students, and ensuring collections are complete and compliant.

DS: In a school composed entirely of 9th and 10th grade newcomer ELLs, organizing the TELPAS writing collection can be challenging. Where do you start?
ES: First and foremost, the verifiers coordinate with the project manager Denise Norris. I spoke with her several times before even reaching out to the other verifiers simply because I already had a couple of years experience as a verifier and wanted to make sure things went smoothly for the other two verifiers, who are new to the role this year. Mrs. Norris and I checked the TELPAS calendar and made sure the window we had would work with what we had planned from previous years. Basically, the first week, we have ELA & Art collect writing samples, the second week we have social studies collect samples, and the third week we have math and science collect samples. Of course, this is just loose format. We like to spread out the writing assignments this way so that students aren’t stressed about writing all day in all their classes for several days. Because we’re a newcomer campus, our students have little to no English and sometimes little to no previous education, so that much writing at once can be extremely stressful for them. Plus, as new students enroll or return from absence during the window, writing is needed at other times as well. Luckily, this year, the TELPAS cut-off for new students is earlier than I think it has been in the past, so we don’t have to worry as much about catching every single new student every single day. That can get challenging, especially when a teacher’s collection week has passed and a new student enrolls after the fact. So after Mrs. Norris and I coordinated the general calendar, I notified the other verifiers and asked them to help me communicate with each department what they were responsible for.

DB: I emailed each group by collection week, reminded them of last year’s prompts, their collection dates, a link to the Google doc for our master list of TELPAS prompts in case teachers want to make changes, and general reminders of what is allowed and not allowed for the writing samples.

AL: Once the TELPAS writing window opened, I emailed the teachers, asking them to turn in samples to the verifiers, so that we can look them over before filing them. This may seem like a lot of micro-management, but it cuts down on time we would be spending later, pulling samples that have insufficient writing, incomplete names, dates written incorrectly, etc. Plus, a teacher might turn in a classroom’s worth of collections that are all missing something or have the teacher’s writing on them, so we can quickly check and ask the teacher to take the samples back to their class to fix those things before we file them.

ES: We received the file folder labels, but inevitably, we were missing many students’ labels by the time the testing window opened. Our system at IHS is to highlight the 10th graders’ names so that they are easy to distinguish from the 9th graders later. If we had more grades, we would probably color-coordinate by grade, but with only 2 grades, we can simply leave 1 grade not-highlighted. Then we file them alphabetically, and have separate crates for 9th graders and for 10th graders. This helps the teachers that teach only one grade or the other.

DB: The highlighted grade level also sometimes helps when we have multiple students with the same name, but perhaps in different grades. As we receive samples from students who have no folder, I’ll print out labels for the students, as it’s much easier to read when typed and printed.

DS: How do you select the writing prompts for each content area? 

ES: I have been at this school since 2013, and from what I recall, we have used some of the suggested prompts from the TELPAS manuals in the past few years, and have had mixed results. Each year, we learn which prompts elicit good and meaningful responses and which prompts fail to draw out a student’s true range of vocabulary. So we created a master list of prompts from the ones that worked, and we simply adjust it year to year to keep it relevant, especially for the topics that need academic language, like math and science.

DS: Why do you make the master list of prompts?

ES: The main reason for the master list is so that teachers can access the prompts whenever they need to. This is in case they forget what prompts have been successful and what we intend to use that year, and so the same student won’t write in response to the same prompt with multiple teachers, which has happened in the past.

AL: But we also like having a master list for students who missed their teacher’s original collection window, either because they were absent or for the students who trickle in and enroll late in the semester. At that point, the verifiers try to take the responsibility off of classroom teachers by finding time to pull the new students and have them write for each type of sample needed. At that point, we can refer to the master list so that we don’t have to come up with a prompt off the top of our heads.

DS: With at least 5 writing samples from every student, how do you keep everything together?

AL: My technique, while collecting samples, is to have a separate folder for each of my classes and to staple that class’ roster on it. As I collect samples for the first day, I file them in the folder alphabetically, then highlight the students that were absent so that I can make sure to get the samples the next day or later that week. Once the absent students make up the writing, they can be marked off from the roster, until the collection is complete and ready to be given to the verifiers for filing.

DS: Tell me about how you organize each student’s writing collection folder.

ES: When we first collect samples, we have one crate for 9th graders and one crate for 10th graders. Once we have at least 5 samples, we check that there are at least 2 academic samples, usually on top, and 1 past tense sample next. We also make sure all 5+ samples are on different topics and that they have the student’s complete name and appropriate dates. If anything is missing, we flag it with a post-it note.  If it is something simple like their name or date, we use pink post-it notes and write what they need to change with an example.  If they are missing essays, we use a green post-it note and write either the type they are missing (i.e past tense or academic) or we write an actual prompt for the student to copy onto the TELPAS essay paper.  The office staff can be helpful in printing out the student’s schedule so we can track them down to fix their name, complete another writing sample, etc. If nothing is missing, we verify the folder and file it in the “9th grade verified” or “10th grade verified” crate. At that point, the raters can sift through the folders and find one of their students to rate, and then file the rated folder to the “verified and rated” crates, one each for 9th and 10th grades. Some years, we have had so many students that we have had two crates for each grade, one for A-M and one for N-Z. It’s just important we keep things organized so that folders don’t end up getting lost.

DS: What do you do for new students? What if a student begins school during the collection window?

ES: Some teachers will take the initiative to ask their new students to write for TELPAS even after the teacher’s designated week is over, as long as the student enrolls before the cut-off date. We, as verifiers, don’t expect teachers to take this extra time during their instruction time, so sometimes we pull students at other times to write. There are students who arrive during the TELPAS window every year. It requires some creativity to ensure that those samples are authentic and compliant.

What about when a student withdraws?

AL: We still keep a student’s folder after they withdraw, especially if they do have at least one writing sample from before their withdrawal from our school. Their next school may ask us to provide the samples to them later, so it’s our responsibility to make sure we keep all documents in a safe place.

DS: When you’re verifying , what do you do when a student is missing writing samples? 

DB: If a student is missing samples after the third week, we flag the folder with a post-it, write the student’s name and ID number, as well the type of prompt needed and a suggested prompt that we can pull from the master list. Then we can find other times to find the student in order to have them write on the remaining prompt(s).

DS: Ah I see, hence the master list for prompts! Are there any other tips you would like to share with ELL EDvocate readers?

ES: I think my main piece of advice is to share the organizational responsibilities among only a few people if possible, especially when you have as many ELLs as we do. Luckily, our verifiers are a bit obsessive compulsive about details and filing, and we actually find filing to be a soothing task, so that part is great! It also helps to have a lot of reminders for everyone involved, as there are so many components to TELPAS, while other exams are going on simultaneously. Also, keep in mind the campus calendar with all the other exams going on. We have to consider campus shut-down days with certain exams, and students being pulled for a full day or multiple days for the TELPAS reading, listening, and speaking exams as well. It can be difficult to juggle all those dates while trying to coordinate the TELPAS writing calendar.

 (Note: The TELPAS TIPS in the ELL EDvocate are not intended to replace the required reading and training from the TELPAS Rater and Verifier manuals.)

One Reply to “TELPAS TIPS w/ Eugenie Seholm, Diana Birdsong and Anna Love”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *