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Huang, J., Han, T., & Schnapp, K. (2012).

Do High-Stakes Test Really Address English


Language Learners Learning Needs? A Discussion of Issues, Concerns, and
Implications. International Journal of Learning and Development, 2(1).

Children are now expected to enter kindergarten with skills that were not expected
of them in the recent past. The notion that five-year-olds need not do more than play and
learn the rules of socialization has long disappeared in U.S. kindergartens and has been
replaced by the absurd notion that the earlier children begin to master the basic elements
of reading, such as phonics and letter recognition, the more likely they are to succeed in
school (Ohanian, 2002). In educational systems of many other countries (see for example
the article on Finland, Alvarez, 2004), formal instruction on literacy and abstract
concepts does not begin until children have reached the age of seven or eight. In
Argentina, play and recreation have a major role in the early grades, and teachers give
themselves six years to develop literacy as a tool for learning. This push for younger
children to do more is particularly problematical for ELLs because many of them enter
kindergarten or first grade lacking some academic skills but bringing with them other
skills such as socializing with others, negotiating, and turn-taking. When these
nonacademic skills lose their value in the eyes of legislators and administrators, ELLs are
at a disadvantage. In an atmosphere where kindergarten education has become heavily
focused on teaching literacy and other academic skills, ELLs are likely to be seen as "at-
risk." Unfortunately, this downward move of expecting younger children to do more has
begun to influence even preschool education in the U.S., which is rapidly following the
trend of more academics and less independent and imaginative play (Miller & Almon,
2009).

Children who are simply late readers will appear as failures. Waiting a year or
perhaps even two years for these late readers to meet the requirements would give them
the benefit of being seen as successes rather than failures. Many ELLs, simply by virtue
of coming to school with a language other than the language of instruction and from a
cultural context that may be quite different from the culture of school, are nonstandard
students. They will not fit into the rigid mold that has been created for "the average child"
and will need the extra time that unfortunately the system rarely gives them. It may take
some students as little as two or three years; it may take others as long as ten to learn
enough English and to the level that their potential allows.
Many standardized assessment measures (both in English and other languages)
contain a very small pool of test items to assess a given skill or ability of interest. Since
many existing assessments are designed to assess a number of different skills and
abilities, the developers often choose to keep the number of items for any given task to a
small number, so as not to end up with an assessment that will be too lengthy and/or
frustrating for the shorter attention span of many preschool-age children.