linguistically and culturally diverse learners and students with disabilities.

The NRC and IOM report concludes that "most measures used [for assessing English-language proficiency] not only have been characterized by the measurement of decontextualized skills but also have set fairly low standards for language proficiency. Ultimately, English-language learners should be held to high standards for both English language and literacy, and should transition from special language measures to full participation in regularly administered assessments of English-language arts" (1997:118).

Testing English-Language Learners

The central dilemma regarding participation of English-language learners in large-scale assessment programs is that, when students are not proficient in the language of the assessment (English), their scores on a test given in English will not accurately reflect their knowledge of the subject being assessed (except for a test that measures only English proficiency). School officials typically decide first whether to exempt an English-language learner from an assessment altogether and, second, if the student is included, how to modify the test or testing procedures to measure the student's skills more accurately. Official policies about exempting or accommodating English-language learners in assessment programs vary widely from place to place. For example, surveys of statewide assessment systems suggest that states are in various stages of incorporating English-language learners into their statewide assessment programs.2 The following section describes some of the variation across jurisdictions in policies for exempting and accommodating English-language learners in large-scale achievement testing. It goes on to describe in more detail current assessment systems in one city—Philadelphia—and four states with large numbers of English-language learners—California, Florida, New York, and Texas.3

2  

Note that some of these assessments may be for accountability purposes and others for examining state trends.

3  

These states were selected partly because they have recently instituted policies (after considerable discussion) that incorporate English-language learners into state assessment systems.



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