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ETS Symposium Targets ELL Assessment

ELLs make up one in 10 students in K-12. Support for ELLs is complicated by the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the landmark federal law that mandates that schools improve the performance of limited-English-proficient learners (LEPs) and immigrant students in reading and math assessments, starting in third grade, with accountability enforced yearly. The New Demography of America's Schools, a report by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA) and Language Instruction Educational Programs, has found that children in immigrant families are often LEP, Hispanic or Asian-American and low-income. The report defines LEP children as those "who speak a language other than English at home and speak English less than `very well."' The 2000 U.S. Census showed 1.7 million LEP children in Pre-K to grade five, and 1.6 million in grades six through 10. It also found that Spanish is spoken by three-quarters of LEP children in Pre-K through grade five, due to the large number of immigrants from Cuba, Central and South America, the Dominican Republic, México and Puerto Rico. It is the main language of 76 percent of all LEP students in Pre-K through grade five and is principally used by 72 percent of students in grades six through 12.

ore than 300 researchers, teachers and administrators from around the country gathered to explore key issues in English-language instruction and assessment at a two-day conference in Princeton, N.J., on Jan. 15-16. The conference was hosted by Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). The field is expanding and diversifying as rapidly as the population of English-language learners (ELLs) in the U.S. Both ETS and NCLR have as their aims supplementing the efforts of schools, districts and states to find ways to support ELLs. ETS does so by developing better assessment and research methods to measure knowledge, skills and performance. NCLR, the largest U.S. Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., has as its main goal improving opportunities for Latinos. Conference presenters included researchers and professors based at ETS and speakers invited from universities throughout the country. John W. Young, senior research scientist, Center for Validity Research, ETS, for example, leads research on assessments and products for ELLs. He said that, along with global leadership, central to the corporate mission is having tests that "meet the highest standards for technical quality" and are "valid and fair" for ELLs and non-ELLs alike. "We also want to look at how scores are being used in a policy-making framework," he said. Young said ETS hopes to create a framework for understanding and interpreting demographics and has launched a longterm study "to look at what happens to ELL learners and non-ELLs in the educational pipeline." A Demographic Perspective ELLs are the fastest-growing student group in U.S. public schools, a reality that poses many challenges to administrators, researchers, teachers and parents regarding how best to teach, test, assess and support this group. Those assembled at the symposium attempted to explore best practices, policies and strategies to close the gap for ELLs. The conference kicked off with a look at demographics. According to the 2006 U.S. Census Bureau, immigrants comprise one in eight U.S. residents, 23 percent of all children and 30 percent of all lowincome children.

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by A. Francesca Jenkins

Research and Assessment David Francis, professor and chair, department of psychology, and director of Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, University of Houston, addressed some of the issues that complicate ELL assessment. "Membership in ELL is dynamic," he said. "As you become proficient, you leave the group." Francis suggested that NCLB propose "modifications that would give schools and districts more helpful information regarding developing English content area." Kenji Hakuta, ETS trustee and professor of education, Stanford University, was the first presenter at the conference. Renowned for his work on bilingualism and English acquisition by immigrant students, he has testified before Congress on language policy and the language education of minority students. He said he hopes to influence education policy in his work with bilingualism, standards-based education reform and ELL. Among his special projects is his work with the Strategic Research Education Partnership to

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specifically to ELLs, she said. "With each reauthorization, some steps have been taken forward. For the longest time, the feeling among policymakers was that the problem would go away, but it hasn't. That has led to the recognition among all policymakers that this needs to be addressed. This is more and more an issue that warrants research, even mainstream research. It's a bipartisan issue. A sign of its growth is that it has become mainstream," said Pompa. Accommodations for ELLs without Altering Tests Charlene Rivera, research professor and executive director, Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, George Washington University, is at the forefront of the ongoing discussion on assessing ELLs. At ETS, she spoke about "defining and refining accommodations appropriate for English-language learners," a talk that in many ways summed up findings in State Assessment Policy and Practice for English Language Learners ­ A National Perspective, which she co-edited with Eric Collum. Rivera attempted to answer such key questions as why test accommodations are necessary. "Standards-based reform and legislation require states to be accountable for the progress of ELLs. With tests in English, ELLs' reduced Englishlanguage proficiency is an obstacle to measuring their content knowledge in mathematics and science independently of their familiarity with the language of the test. Thus the format or language of the test can be a source of invalidity for tests ­ known as construct irrelevant variance. Effective accommodations are necessary to reduce construct irrelevant variance due to English-language proficiency," she said. Rivera said that an accommodation should help students demonstrate their knowledge and preempt the need to change tests. An accommodation can involve changes to test procedures, materials "or the testing situation to allow the student to participate meaningfully in an assessment." It also "addresses the unique linguistic and socio-cultural needs of the student without altering the test construct and provides results that are comparable to unaccommodated assessments." Examples of direct linguistic support accommodations are: the use of repetition, the dictionary and computer-delivered pop-ups that define words, and simple English words used in a simple grammatical structure. Another accommodation would be extra time. Examples of indirect support accommodations are: test schedule and test environment. The 2006-2007 State Assessment Policies list 112 accommodations. Rivera reviewed the challenges that face policymakers. The language of state policies needs to be clarified and needs to match that of other states. Rivera gave the example that, while one state notes that a student taking a test may use a "bilingual dictionary as needed," another state dictates, "dictionary and extended time." One state stipulates that tests are only to be read to the student by the person administering the test and without clarification or elaboration, while another requires "reading the test in English only (any content area, sub-test or prompt)." At this time, states are also uneven in terms of having policies that specifically address ELL needs. According to Rivera, 33 states have separate ELL policies, while 18 combine ELL policies with those for students with disabilities. But needs differ. While an administrator may read a passage aloud to dyslexic and blind students, an ELL student may hear and read a test that is being read aloud at the same time. Per state guidelines, only special education students can utilize accommodations on large-scale tests.

develop a knowledge- and data-driven system for researchers and personnel that addresses math and literacy issues in middle schools in San Francisco; he is also creating an online resource for teachers. In an interview with The Hispanic Outlook, Hakuta said that the issues of language acquisition that involve the children of immigrants comprise "one of the most defining debates in the language of instruction." But the debate, he said, should be about more than language instruction, it should be about the legal framework that defines instruction for this population, "about the framework for educational programs that meet standards of being theoretically sound, being research-based and being implemented with academically based research to show biases of language and academic content/subject areas in ELL." Asked how challenges now posed by ELL assessment differ from those of 10 years ago, Hakuta said, "The assessments today have higher consequences for the students and for the educators, including high school graduation and schools coming under reorganization. In that context, good assessment of ELLs is imperative. ... Assessment needs to be better understood as a tool in serving the needs of ELL students, not just as an instrument of accountability." Mainstreaming the ELL Assessment Dialogue The road to finding best practices and assessment tools for ELLs has been long and slow. Delia Pompa is vice president of education for the National Council of La Raza, overseeing programs from Pre-K to college and charter schools. She has more than 30 years experience working on public school reform with local, state and federal agencies and said the dialogue regarding the appropriateness of assessment has been going on for as many years. In 1994, however, that dialogue started to apply more

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"To qualify for special ed is the only way to get an accommodation [on the state assessment]. If a student is to be exempted, the state must assess that student. Individual education plan (IEP) is the only mechanism for granting exemption or allowing accommodation," said Rivera. Factors that need to be taken into account in using ELL-responsive criteria are English-language proficiency, the language of instruction, the literacy level in each language and the age of the student getting tested, said Rivera. ELLs with Disabilities Laurene Christensen, research fellow in assessment accommodations for ELLs and students with disabilities, University of Minnesota, said that in 2001-02 there were 357 ELL students in K-12 with disabilities in that state; 80 percent of these were learning-disabled or speech-impaired, and the largest number were Spanish. Programs for instructing ELLs with disabilities, noted Christensen, are "less aligned with state standards." (Close to 200,000 ELLs nationwide received special education for their learning disabilities in 2001-02, according to the Partnership for Accessible Reading Assessments Web site). Christensen reported that the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) found that while 50 states have policies for students with individual educational plans (IEPs), only 25 have policies for ELLs with IEPs, and only 24 prohibit exclusion from mainstream programs based on "cultural, social, linguistic or environmental factors." Regarding policies, many state policies "identify accommodations for ELLs and ELLs with disabilities and individual student needs," but "flexibility and maintaining constructs are both important design considerations," according to the NCEO. NCEO also reported that while states do not offer Braille versions of tests at this time, they may do so in the future. "Some states are experimenting with novel definitions of accommodations, for example, having a student selecting or creating a tool to use," she said. Key questions asked by researchers and educators at the ETS conference were: Are state language assessments valid for ELLs with disabilities? What are the consequences of too many modifications? Researchers and those involved with teaching ELLs have found that, due to a lack in definition, there is a lack of implementing strategies and a lack of refinement regarding approaches to helping ELLs with disabilities. "ELLs with disabilities tend to be placed in highly exclusive or highly inclusive programs," said Christensen. She and others, she said, are working on "closing the gap on ELLs and on how ELLs with disabilities fit into

that picture." Leonard Baca, University of Colorado, made a presentation on "approaches and strategies for serving ELLs with disabilities." In 1998, he defined bilingual/ESL special ed as "the use of home language and the home culture along with ESL in an individually designed program of special instruction for the student." He said this group has "three strikes against them due to their disability, limited-English proficiency and lower socioeconomic status." Conversely, the three unique strengths these students have to build on are "human learning potential, native language and unique culture," he said. Baca said the two main questions in bilingual/ESL special ed are: "Are we identifying the right children? And are we providing the right services?" Baca said the new context for helping ELLs with disabilities is NCLB and Response to Intervention (RTI), a teaching model that involves regular and special instruction and allows students to progress through lengthy prereferral and formal referral and assessment processes before getting help in special ed programs. NCLB, he said, helps ELLs by giving states the freedom to choose the best style of instruction, mandating states to set up English-proficiency standards, making states provide "quality instruction based on scientific research" and making sure that "highly qualified teachers" assist this group. Studies have shown that RTI works better than the pre-referral model in which "we wait until the child fails," he said. Baca also said that effective instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students (CLDE) builds on their language, home and other cultures and focuses on collaborative learning and active problem solving. At the very least, those present at the ETS conference and those prominent in the field of ELL have succeeded in identifying some of the complex challenges facing ELLs, which will take time and effort to resolve and heal. Hakuta, who was "very satisfied by the level of participation" at the conference, said, "I think they [educators and administrators] came away with a broader picture of the complexity of the issues and ... feel that they have a partner with whom to seek better solutions to the issues." Pompa said the conference provided "a good way to recap where we are in research with ELLs." A plus, she said, is that "a lot of us know each other." Pompa's professional goals seem to mirror those of many in the field ­ "that we have excellent education for all kids. In particular, my concern is that Hispanic and ELL learners have not always had the access to highest levels of education and that they might in the future, so that you can't see a gap in performance of kids in reference to their proficiency or ethnicity or race."

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