oped by other national organizations; they acknowledge the central role of language in the learning of content as well as the particular instructional needs of learners who are in the process of developing proficiency in English.
States have attempted to deal with the variability in students' English proficiency by developing policies to exempt students with limited English proficiency from statewide tests. But the criteria vary among the states. In most cases, the time the student has spent in the United States is the determining factor; in others, the time the student has spent in an English-as-a-second-language program has governed such decisions. However, some have argued that time is not the critical factor and instead have recommended that students demonstrate language proficiency before states and districts determine whether they will participate in assessments. A few states use such determinations, formally or informally (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1998).
In addition to exempting English-language learners from tests, most states permit some form of accommodations for such students. The most common accommodations are in presentation, such as repeating directions, having a familiar person administer the test, and reading directions orally; in timing, such as extending the length of the testing period and permitting breaks; and in setting, such as administering tests in small groups or in separate rooms. A few states also permit modifications in response format, such as permitting students to respond in their native language.
In addition to the modifications, 11 states also have in place alternate assessments for English-language learners. Most commonly these alternatives take the form of foreign-language versions of the test. In most cases, these versions are in Spanish; New York State provides tests in Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Haitian Creole as well. The second-language versions are not simple translations, however. Translations would not capture idioms or other features unique to a language or culture.
Second-language assessments are controversial. Since the purpose of the test is to measure students' knowledge and skills in content areas, many states have provided alternate assessments in subjects other than English; to test English ability, states have continued to rely on English-language assessments. The voluntary national test proposed by President Clinton would follow a similar policy; some districts that had agreed to participate pulled out after they realized that the fourth grade reading test would be administered only in English.
As with accommodations for students with disabilities, the research on the effects of test accommodations for English-language learners is inconclusive. It is not always clear, for example, that different versions of tests in different languages are in fact measuring the same things (National Research Council, 1997b). Moreover, attempts to modify the language of tests—for example, simplifying directions—have not always made English-language tests easier to understand (Abedi, 1995).
One recent study of the effects of accommodations in a large-scale testing program, the state assessment in Rhode Island, found that the state's efforts to