Standardized Tests For ESL Students In US Public Schools


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There have been a number of stories relatively recently about standardized tests in public schools in the US; the angle I’m concerned with is the one relating to ESL students. To put it all into context, following the passing of the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools are required to report “progress” – measured by state-written standardized tests – on a yearly basis.

And in this article from New Jersey, “…states must monitor how many students in various subgroups _ including English learners _ pass standardized tests. If the number is not high enough, schools risk losing federal money or being taken over by the state …the students who are just learning English are now held to the same expectations on standardized tests given in English as children who uttered their first words in English.”

Ironically, “The [ESL] students may have instructions for the exams _ but not the substantive questions _ translated, and they get extra time.”

In “Test unfair to English language learners”, it is reported that educators in New York have apparently expressed concern over this through letters and emails, and have proposed “portfolio assessment” of English language learners, but to no avail.

This article also points to research which has shown that it can take up to five years for language learners in these situations to become similarly proficient to their native speaking classmates.

I think the idea that a single standardized test can give a good picture of how well a school is performing is quite obviously a faulty one. Which schools should get funding for what is a wide question – and one much beyond the scope of the TEFL Logue. If children are not learning what they need to, though, that is telling of a bigger problem – and this doesn’t necessarily mean a problem with teachers or non-native English speakers, it could well be with funding or society or parents (of children from all language backgrounds) in general.

I think also very significant in this is the misguided notion of many in the US that foreign languages are something you can learn easily, in a year or two. It leads to an attitude like, “If it’s that easy, why don’t these kids just learn?” In fact, it’s not that easy – that doesn’t mean it’s not worth learning, but people would do well to include a bit more reality in their opinions, especially when it is on a topic with such serious ramifications for schools and children.