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where along the road from understanding no English to being completely proficient.1

At a time when educational testing is a factor with ever-increasing impact on students' lives and on the fates of schools, districts, teachers, and administrators, it is not surprising that questions about how and when to test English-language learners, and what to make of their test scores, have been some of the most vexing ones. In discussions of these issues, the Forum on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity identified five specific questions about considerations that affect the testing of English-language learners to explore at a workshop held in October 1999.

  • What is the best way to decide which English-language learners should be included in a given testing program?

  • What is the best way to decide which accommodations are appropriate for English-language learners who are taking a particular test? 2

  • How might we evaluate the effects of accommodations on the results of a particular test?

  • What should reports of test results convey about which students were included and about any accommodations that were provided? How might these reports vary depending on their intended recipients?

  • What factors need to be considered in planning tests for different purposes, such as those for use in making high-stakes decisions about individual students or those used for system accountability?


The term English-language learner is generally used in this report, following the practice adopted in a previous NRC report “Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children.” While other terms are used in some contexts, the committee responsible for that report chose the term that emphasizes these students' learning rather than their limitations. The term limited English proficient (LEP) is used when the context requires it. That term is defined in federal guidelines as “national origin minority students who cannot speak, read, write, or comprehend English well enough to participate meaningfully in and benefit from the schools' regular education program.” (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2000)


Accommodations are changes “to the testing situation, (e.g.) presentation format, response format, setting, and the timing/scheduling of tests. [They are] a means of enabling [English-language learners] to demonstrate their academic knowledge despite their limited English proficiency.” (Rivera et al., 2000) A list of specific accommodations is provided on page 25.

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