Sarah Klaiber CI 405 11/18/10 NCLB and the Instruction and Assessment of ELL Students

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, federal legislation passed by U.S. Congress, is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the central federal law in K-12 education. The ESEA, first enacted in 1965, provided federal funding for education programs primarily for disadvantaged students. NCLB continued to define and describe these education programs and added new accountability mandates that must be met by states in order to receive funding for the programs. The primary goal of NCLB is to close the “achievement gaps” between various student demographic groups. All states are required to bring all students to statedesignated proficiency levels in reading and math by 2014. One of the mandated demographic subgroups under NCLB is English Language Learners (ELL’s). This group has received attention because there is an achievement gap between the students in this group and the group of highest achieving students. ELL classified students make up 10 percent of the U.S. public school population (NAEP 2008). There are concerns about the ELL under NCLB because of perceived problems with the way these students are assessed and educated, and because these students continue to have lower achievement levels. This paper will address these concerns and will provide information about the NCLB mandates related specifically to ELLs, data related to how they have fared under NCLB, and some suggestions for changing the legislation to better meet the instructional and assessment needs of these students. The primary accountability mandate in NCLB requires states to develop tests, standards, and proficiency goals for ELL students. Each year, student test scores are used to show if the school is making annual yearly progress (AYP) towards their 2014 math and reading proficiency

goals. This test data must be divided into population subgroups to show each subgroup’s progress. ELL students make up just one population subgroup. If one or more subgroups fails to make the required AYP in math or reading, then the school is labled as “in need of improvement.” This is when improvement measures are put into place, and progressive sanctions come are set in place (CPE). Several titles of NCLB specifically address ELL achievement, language proficiency, and testing. Under the general provisions of NCLB’s Title IX, Part A, Section 9101, any student designated as ELL must complete a Home Language Survey that identifies the student as bilingual. The student’s score must show limited proficiency in one or all of the four areas or reading, speaking, listening and writing. Then these students must take both English proficiency testing and achievement testing. Guidelines for these tests are stated in Titles I and III of NCLB (CPE). Proficiency tests are required every year K–12, beginning the first year a student enrolls in a U.S. school. Under Title I, districts must test oral language, reading, and writing skills in English each year. ELLs are also tested in math at the time the student enters the school. ELLs are tested in reading that year or the following year. ELLs may take state reading and language arts tests in their native language for the first three years, yet some may get a waiver to extend this for one to two years. Limits are not set for math or science tests. The most common way states include ELL students in achievement testing is through regular state tests with the use of accommodations (CPE). States make their own language proficiency standards, linked to the state’s academic standards. Once a student is defined as English Language Proficient, their achievement test scores will no longer be included in the ELL subgroup. Although,former ELL students may remain part of the subgroup for up to two years after this point. States are required

to include the ELL subgroup in their(AYP). All subgroups must meet AYP for the school not to be considered a failing school. Not meeting AYP impacts the school’s federal funding and control (CPE). If a school fails to achieve AYP two years in a row, the school faces strict repercussions including closure, and state or private take over. (Spring 158). ELL students make up a large percent of U.S students. In 2008 it was projected that over 11 percent of students were classified as ELL (National Center for Education Statistics). This constitutes for a 60 percent increase in the past 10 years, while the total student population has not experienced an increase. Different states are experiencing these increases at different levels. Southwestern states have the highest proportions of ELL students, but more than half of all states reported ELL students as at least 5 percent to their K-12 student population (U.S. Deptartment of Education). Some states that previously had lower ELL populations are experiencing dramatic increases. States such as North Carolina and Nebraska experienced an increase of 372 and 301 percent from 1996 to 2006. States such as these have little experience serving ELL students in the education system. Many of these students are not receiving the funds that should be intended for their education. In 2009, 10 states did not provide any state-level funds to ELL education. (“Meeting the Needs of English Language Learners and Other Diverse Learners”). Whether it be because of the lack of funds, or proper instruction, or accommodations, it cannot be denied that ELL students are preforming considerably worse than non-ELL students on state exams. According to the NAEP, in 2009, 49 percent percent of elementary ELL students had reading scores at proficiency levels. This is compared to 78 percent of non-ELL students. Similarly, 12 percent of these ELL elementary students scored at or above math proficiency levels, compared 46 percent of non-ELLs. In middle school and high school these gaps widen

even farther. In 2008 31 percent of ELL high school students tested at reading proficiency levels, compared to 76 percent of non-ELL students(Chudowsky 14). The achievement gap here is clear. Some believe that NCLB has been beneficial for ELL students in numerous ways. For one, it has brought immense visibility to the need for improvement in ELL education. Having ELL students take the same assessments allows educators and policy makers to compare test scores. Being able to to clearly see and compare the scores of subgroups highlights the size of achievement gaps, and where these gaps lie. ELL advocacy groups have been able to use this data to support change and improvement in education for ELL students (Zambala 4). However, some have issues with the ways NCLB impacts ELL students. Although NCLB requires states to provide “reasonable accommodations” for ELL students during standardized tests, there are no specific recommendations, nor federal enforcement to ensure ELL students are receiving such accommodations. Because of the lack of specific guidelines, state policies often lack clarity, causing confusion about what accommodations are allowed (Choi and Wright 33). This lack of conformity may impact the validity of ELL test scores. If tests are given in English, and the ELL student is not given proper accommodations, the test score will not accurately indicate the knowledge of the student (Chudowsky 6). The student will have trouble understanding the language of the test questions, not necessarily the content. Students are allowed to take tests in their native language for up to 3 years. Yet, many are not English proficient by this time. Also, creating and scoring tests in different languages is costly, lessening availability. Because of this, the use of a bilingual dictionary is an approved accommodation for ELL students in many states. Yet, the effectiveness of these accommodations is lacking research. Also, the individual needs of each student varies so greatly, it is hard to determine the most effective form of accommodation. The lack of research and conformity pertaining to

accommodations could greatly impact the validity and reliability of ELL test scores. Because schools are held accountable for these scores, it is extremely important that they accurately assess students.(Chudowsky 6). Another issue that may impact the validity of ELL test scores is the classification of the ELL group. Because recently deemed English Proficient students’ test scores are only included with the ELL subgroup for up to two years, it is extremely challenging to track the progress of these students. If there is a constant influx of immigrants who have not mastered English, and those who have become proficient are always leaving the subgroup, the progress of ELL students cannot be seen in the subgroup test scores. Test scores will always appear low because those who have made considerable progress are taken out of the subgroup. Also, the changing number of students considered ELL can have impacts on the validity and reliability of test scores. In 2008, Illinois reported a 1,141 percent increase in 4th grade ELL students taking the state reading exam. These large increases can be explained by not only a population increase, but changes in ELL classification. These drastic changes also make it extremely hard to track ELL achievement and progress based on assessments(Chudowsky 8). Again, this has great impacts on ELLs and entire schools meeting AYP (Chudowsky 5). Another issue related to ELL students and NCLB is proper instruction. Title III specifically calls for improved instructional techniques and programs, development of English proficiency, and increased academic achievement in the English language. It also describes schools as being held accountable for these goals (NCLB Sec. 3102). So if NCLB calls for improved ELL instruction and programs, how can schools achieve this? There are numerous instructional methods used with ELL students, including English only, bilingual education, and two-way immersion programs. Many studies, including a review conducted for the Center of

Public Education, have shown that students in bilingual, especially immersion programs, out perform students in English only classrooms. Not only are these programs effective in promoting cultural equality, large scale studies have shown students in TWI/bilingual students to have the highest long term above grade level success rates when compared to students in ELL pullout, ELL content, and transitional bilingual education programs (Howard 24). These programs support the fact that when people understand the language of instruction, they comprehend more and learn better. They also support findings that literate proficiency in the native language correlates with proficiency in learned language (Goldenberg 14). By supporting proficiency in the native language, TWI/bilingual programs strengthen proficiency in the learned language. This gives students the ability to succeed in the dominant society, while positively impacting the minority student’s self perception and preserving cultural identity. Yet, some believe that the levels of equality strived for are extremely difficult to achieve in an English-dominant society (de Jong 6). Also, the large variety classroom dynamics makes it hard for one teacher to meet the needs of every student. Because many students are at different reading and speaking levels in different languages, some students fall behind and others are not challenged. Multiple additional resources are necessary for equal success (Lopez 24). Because such resources and funding are crucial, there has been a huge push in the U.S. toward English Only education for ELL students (Salinas 22). The U.S. Department of Education has issued a blueprint for the Reauthorization of NCLB. Relating to ELL students, the reauthorization states that states must: “Establish new criteria to ensure consistent statewide identification of students as English Learners, and to determine eligibility, placement, and duration of programs and services, based on the state’s valid and reliable English language proficiency assessment.” and “Implement a system to evaluate the

effectiveness of language instruction educational programs, and to provide information on the achievement of subgroups of English Learners, to drive better decisions by school districts for program improvement, and to support districts in selecting effective programs. (Blueprint 4)” These suggestions definitely address the previously stated issues, but more must be done to ensure the accuracy of ELL test scores, and the success of ELL students. The U.S Department of Educations states that the reauthorization of NCLB must continue its commitment to “Improving programs for English Learners and encouraging innovative programs and practices to support English Learners' success and build the knowledge base about what works.” The reauthorization should make research about Bilingual programs accessible to states, and support the funding of such programs. The problems associated with accountability could be addressed by holding states accountable for the reliability and validity of their assessments. States would be evaluated on the validity of their testing system. This means states would have to prove that their tests accurately assessed ELL students, and accommodations were appropriate. Research must be done to prove validity of assessments and accommodations. Based on this research, specific guidelines should be imposed for what constitutes an effective accommodation. Having effective accommodations will increase validity of the test scores, and accurately measure ELL achievement (Zambala 7). Also, ELL students should be permanently classified as so. A consistent ELL subgroup designation will provide more accurate test scores, and allow for data interpretation used to improve ELL education. These students should have long-term access to needed academic and language support. States should be required to classify student upon entry of school, based on English proficiency levels. These classification methods should be standardized so that progress can be tracked at all levels of proficiency. This way students can receive necessary linguistic and

academic support for their level, whether English proficient or low level speaker. (Working Group for ELL Education 2010). These suggestions would improve validity of test scores, lessening school penalization for inaccurate scores, and therefor improve ELL academic achievement. I truly believe that the solutions previously stated would greatly impact ELL students on many levels. I believe quality of instruction is the most important factor in ELL student achievement. The U.S. government needs to start supporting ELL programs that effectively teach students academics and language, while addressing social and cultural factors. I do not believe English only programs can properly do this. Students must feel comfortable and respected in order to maximize learning. These ideas can also be applied to assessment. If a student feels such extreme anxiety while taking a test, partially due to language barriers, they most I cannot believe they will perform to their fullest. I doubt that NCLB will ever mandate a specific instructional method such as TWI or bilingual programs, but by requiring states to provide the best instructional practices, it must require states to thoroughly research these methods. If the research supports bilingual programs, these are are the programs that states should be using. If students are receiving proper instruction, and being legitimately assessed, achievement will improve. Even though I do not believe achievement can be solely based on test scores, I believe that accurate test scores can tell teachers and policy makers important information on how and where to improve education. By allowing ELL students to stay in the subgroup throughout their education, test score accuracy will increase, and true progress can be tracked. Providing proper accommodations will lessen test anxiety and assure that language barriers are not significantly impacting test scores. This increased accuracy will aid schools in meeting AYP and overall improve education.

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