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how best to meet the academic and social needs of children who are English-language learners. That committee's report, Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children: A Research Agenda (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1997), devotes a portion of the discussion to the issue of assessing the language proficiency and subject-matter knowledge and skills of English-language learners. We draw on this earlier report throughout this chapter.
Population of English-Language Learners
Defining appropriate assessment policies for English-language learners is complicated by the great diversity of their language backgrounds, previous educational experience, length of time residing in the United States, and current instructional programs. The number of English-language learners in grades K-12 is large and has grown considerably over the last decade (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1997:17–19). A survey conducted in 1991 (Fleischman and Hopstock, 1993) estimated the number of students classified as English-language learners at 2.3 million (or about 6 percent of the school population)—an increase of almost 1 million students over a similar survey in 1984.
About three-fourths of English-language learners in the United States have Spanish as their language background; 27 percent come from other language backgrounds. No other single language is spoken by more than 4 percent of English-language learners. Over half of English-language learners are in the early elementary grades (K-4). A large majority are from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Children who cannot participate meaningfully and equitably in English-only classrooms due to limited English proficiency are eligible by law for special instructional services. The type and range of such programs vary tremendously (see National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1997:19–21, for an overview). In addition, English-language learners enter the United States at different ages, and their home and community environments differ in the amount of English used. Some arrive in U.S. schools with limited or interrupted prior schooling. Once here, they may enter English-only instructional programs or bilingual programs; many shift between programs.
A number of methods are used to determine which students are English-language learners, to place these students in special instructional programs, and to monitor their progress. Improving Schooling for Language-Minority