When non-English versions of a test are used, other problems arise, including translation and score equivalence: Is the translated test comparable in content to the original? Can scores from the two different language versions be accurately compared? For example, would a score of 50 in one language be interpreted the same way as a score of 50 in another language? (American Educational Research Association et al., 1998:9-4).

"Every assessment is an assessment of language," the committee wrote in Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children. "This is even more so given the advent of performance assessments requiring extensive comprehension and production of language."5 Research indicates that lack of proficiency in the language of the test can result in significant underestimation of the test taker's knowledge. A further problem is errors in the scoring of open-ended or performance-based measures. There is evidence that scorers may be influenced by linguistic features of students' answers unrelated to the content of the assessment. Thus, scorers may downgrade the performance of English-language learners unfairly, confounding the accuracy of the score (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1997:120–122).

Research that can inform policy and guidelines for making decisions about exemptions, modifications, and accommodations in assessment procedures is urgently needed. A number of such research efforts are under way, including efforts to include more English-language learners in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 6 A recent report of the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) describes many of these current research efforts (Olson and Goldstein, 1997); these are summarized in the appendix to this chapter.

The research base regarding various strategies that can be used to enhance the participation of English-language learners in large-scale assessments

5  

For example, the performance description for "mathematical communication," one of seven mathematical performance areas for elementary schoolchildren, requires the student to "use appropriate mathematical terms, vocabulary, and language based on prior conceptual work; show ideas in a variety of ways including words, numbers, symbols, pictures, charts, graphs, tables, diagrams, and models; explain clearly and logically solutions to problems, and support solutions with evidence, in both oral and written form; consider purpose and audience when communicating; and comprehend mathematics from reading assignments and from other sources" (New Standards, 1995). Quite clearly, this assessment of mathematical skills is also an assessment of language proficiency.

6  

More complete discussion of the issues of including English-language learners in NAEP can be found in Grading the Nation's Report Card: Evaluating NAEP and Transforming the Assessment of Educational Progress (National Research Council, 1999).



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