Achieving testing for English Language Learners, ready or not?.

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School reform efforts across the US have focused on creating systems in which all students are expected to achieve to high standards. To ensure that students reach those standards and to document what students know and can do, schools collect assessment information on students' academic achievement. More information is needed, however, to find out when such assessments are appropriate for English learners and can provide meaningful information about what such learners know and can do. We describe and discuss a study that addresses the question of when it is appropriate to administer content area tests in English to English learners. Drawing on the student database of San Francisco Unified School District, we examined the effect of language demands on the SAT/9 mathematics scores of Chinese-speaking and Spanish-speaking students. Our results showed that while the English language demands of the problem solving subscale affect all students, they have a larger effect on English learners' performance, thus rendering the tests inaccurate in measuring English learners' subject matter achievement. Our results also showed that this effect gradually decreases as students become more proficient in English, taking five to six years for students to reach parity with national norms. These results have important implications for the design of school accountability systems and policies with high-stakes consequences for English learners such as high-school graduation requirements based on standardized tests.


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How to Cite
Tsang, S.-L., Katz, A., & Stack, J. (2008). Achieving testing for English Language Learners, ready or not?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 16, 1.
Author Biographies

Sau-Lim Tsang, ARC Associates

Sau-Lim Tsang is the executive director of ARC Associates, a non-profit organization that focuses on improving the education of diverse student groups. He is also the executive director of Oakland Unity High School, a charter school in Oakland, California.

Anne Katz, School For International Training

Anne Katz has worked for over twenty years as a researcher and evaluator with educational projects involving linguistically and culturally diverse students. As a lecturer at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, she teaches courses in curriculum, assessment, and evaluation.

Jim Stack, San Francisco Unified School District

Jim Stack is the former Director of Achievement Assessments for the San Francisco Unified School District. Dr. Stack was the 2003 President of the California Educational Research Association and is currently serving a three-year term (2006–2009) on the TESOL Board of Directors.