September 11, 2011

Editorial: ELL Assessment: One Size Does Not Fit All


ELL Assessment: One Size Does Not Fit All
By David N. Plank
August 30, 2011

Every year, some 5 million public school students who are still mastering English take assessments to determine how much they know, how much progress they’ve made, and where they need support.

Unfortunately, the results of these tests are far from valid because many of these students are not sufficiently proficient in English to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities on assessments designed for native English-speakers. It is akin to asking someone to fill out a job application in a language he or she doesn’t understand even though that person can potentially do every aspect of the job.

Underperforming on tests because of a lack of language fluency can unfairly depress students’ scores. If they perform poorly, we must determine why. Is it due to a lack of content knowledge or a lack of English proficiency? Is the assessment responsive to differences in students’ levels of fluency? Today, we fail to disentangle these issues far too often, with grave consequences for students.

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