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Resources: Important Questions on Student Assessment

  1. Should an English language learner be tested in the native language or in English?

  2. We wish to use multiple criteria to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of our English language learners. What types of measures should we include?

  3. Why is it important to use multiple criteria for making decisions about exiting/reclassifying English language learners?

  4. What information should be used when deciding whether a student is ready to move from a special language services (e.g., ESL program) classroom into a classroom with a fully English-proficient population?

  5. Can we use an interpreter to administer a standardized test to a student who does not speak English?

  1. Should an English language learner be tested in the native language or in English? 

    Clarifying the purpose for the testing activities and how the results will be used can help answer this question. For example, if one wants to determine if a student has learned certain skills, such as in math or science, then you should conduct the testing in the language which will not interfere with the student's ability to demonstrate his or her present level of learning. In most cases, this means testing the student in the same language in which (s)he receives instruction. However, if the purpose of the testing is to establish the student's level of proficiency in English, then you should conduct testing activities in English. Similarly, if the purpose is to establish the level of proficiency in another language, then you should do the testing in that language. On the other hand, if the purpose of the testing is to help determine if the student has the skills necessary to move into the fully-English proficient classroom, then you should conduct the testing in the language in which instruction is provided in that classroom. 

    Bilingual services are required to evaluate the cases in which English language learners have been referred to special education services. The examiner should know the language of the child being tested and should be qualified in the area of special education in which the evaluation is being conducted. For languages where no bilingual specialist is available, you may use a translator who is fluent in the primary language of the child along with a qualified special education evaluator. 


  2. We wish to use multiple criteria to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of our English language learners. What types of measures should we include?

    The most commonly used evaluation criterion is test scores, which is a critical component for conducting authentic assessments. You should consider scores from a variety of instruments, including standardized achievement tests, placement/diagnostic tests, language proficiency measures, and informal assessment tools. However, test scores alone cannot provide a complete picture of a student's instructional needs; it is necessary to collect various types of descriptive information as well. Existing records including student grades, teacher comments, attendance rates, referrals for discipline problems, pattern of parental attendance at school activities, participation in extracurricular or community activities, school health screening activities, and any other existing documentation can help round out or complete an appraisal on a student. Other measures to consider as criteria for a comprehensive evaluation include questionnaires, oral interviews, and observations. By using a variety of criteria and multiple sources of data, a more comprehensive and accurate evaluation can be ensured. 

    In addition, provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 require that states use an English language proficiency test aligned to its standards, including standards for English language proficiency aligned to the state's content standards for English language arts and mathematics. 


  3. Why is it important to use multiple criteria for making decisions about exiting/reclassifying English language learners? 

    The decision to exit or reclassify an English language learner as an English-proficient student can have a tremendous impact on that student's educational and personal future. If a student is misclassified or exited from a program prematurely and without the English language skills necessary to benefit from an education conducted in English, (s)he is likely to encounter difficulties in the fully English-proficient classroom. You should not use test scores alone to make such an important decision, especially given the current state of the art of assessing limited English proficient students. Therefore, in addition to standardized test scores, it is necessary to use a variety of other data sources -- grades in other classes if the student is partially mainstreamed, opinions of other teachers, observations of the student in various learning situations, interview with the student -- to help ensure that the decision will accurately predict a student's ability to benefit from an education conducted in English. 


  4. What information should be used when deciding whether a student is ready to move from a special language services (e.g., ESL program) classroom into a classroom with a fully English-proficient population? 

    Deciding whether or not a student is ready to move into the mainstream is a critical decision and one which must be made with care. It is important to take into consideration a variety of information including:

    • performance on standardized tests, including reading, language arts, and appropriate content areas (e.g., mathematics, science, social studies);
    • grades in other classes, especially those courses which the student is taking with a fully English-proficient population;
    • teacher ratings of the skills necessary to benefit from an education conducted in English; and
    • interviews with the student, covering academic, affective, and communication skills necessary to benefit from an education conducted in English.



    If there is some doubt about whether or not the ELL student has the skills necessary to benefit from an education conducted in English, it can be helpful to observe the student in a variety of academic settings to ensure that key skills have been mastered. Observations may also be necessary with younger students to determine whether they can, in fact, interact successfully in the classroom with a fully English-fluent population. 

    Regardless of the criteria used to make decisions about mainstreaming a student, keep in mind that you should always use multiple criteria. Decisions to mainstream a student should not be made on a single criterion, such as the results of an oral language proficiency test. Exit criteria should include a variety of information to ensure that the student has developed the language skills necessary to use English for school learning. 

    Note that you can mainstream ELL students with monolingual English peers in non-academic situations (e.g., physical education, music, art) earlier than in academic ones. ELL students should not be isolated or segregated any more than is necessary to ensure their speedy ability to benefit from an education conducted in English. Separation of ELL students from their mainstream peers should obviously meet a valid educational purpose. 

  5. Can we use an interpreter to administer a standardized test to a student who does not speak English? 

    Yes. There are, however, some guidelines to follow when doing so. First, the interpreter must be trained for that role and for test administration procedures. Second, the interpreter and the test administrator should be given background information about the student and attempt to establish a comfort level for the testing relationship. Third, the interpreter and the test administrator should review both the student's response to the test items and the notes about the student after the testing session. Fourth, they should disregard incorrect responses to test material that is clearly based on cultural or national knowledge. Fifth, they should not use the test norms when interpreting the student's scores. Instead, they should interpret raw scores and percent correct for various skill areas. Finally, if interpreters are used on a regular basis, the school should provide them with systematic training and should observe them as a quality control check.