BOX 9-3 Graduation Requirements: Two Hypothetical Cases


The large city school district of New Colombia decides that it will require as a prerequisite to high school graduation that students (a) display sufficient control of English to function adequately in a job interview for an unskilled position in the restaurant or retail sector and (b) perform adequately on knowledge assessments in the domains of mathematics, U.S. government, and American literature. It also includes among its educational goals raising the high school graduation rates and decreasing disparity among language groups in rates of high school completion.

New Colombia adopts a language proficiency assessment designed to reflect conversational skill that requires one-on-one testing, using a scripted interaction protocol such as that developed for application of the guidelines developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Education officials recognize that test formats such as those used for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) reflect knowledge of vocabulary, formally taught grammar, and listening comprehension but do not relate to conversational/interactive proficiency, and furthermore recognize that TOEFL-style tests are more appropriate for those who have been explicitly taught a language than for those who have acquired it in a second-language setting. Teacher judgments are used to determine which students must take the conversation proficiency assessment, although New Colombia officials suspect that perhaps teacher judgment concerning conversational proficiency would be as good an indicator as teacher judgment concerning whose conversational fluency needs to be tested.

The American literature knowledge test presupposes having read works by Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Toni Morrison and being able to answer multiple-choice questions and provide short written answers to questions. New Colombia educators had a long debate about what form of access to these works of literature they considered essential, and what form of display of knowledge about them they considered appropriate for high school graduates. They eventually decided that English-language learners could choose to study these texts in English, or in translation, or in English with extensive footnotes providing interpretations and translations. They also decided that tests should be provided in booklets that included English and a translated version of all questions, and that students could respond to short-answer questions in any language or language mix. Provision of dual-language test versions is unlimited, upon student request.

In seven of the eight secondary schools in New Colombia, U.S. government

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