The significant changes in demography prompt a paradigm shift in educational assessment towards social justice for people whose native language is not English. Nowadays, standardized tests are particularly challenging for English Language Learners (ELLs) because the learning of subjects is complicated by the simultaneous need to acquire new language skills. From the social justice perspective, it is essential to reconsider the measures applied to assess the knowledge and skills of language learners to provide educational equity. However, the task seems challenging because a one-size-fits-all methodology is not suitable for language-minority students, a complex group of individuals variable in their language competency skills, experiences, and sociolinguistic background. Therefore, I believe that ELLs should not be subjected to standardized tests.
Synthesis of Assessments
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) serves as the law determining public education in the United States. It requires multiple assessment tools to measure student’s achievements beyond the limits of test scores and graduation rates (Cook-Harvey et al., 2016). Hence, educational establishments could utilize both formal and informal assessments to obtain the full picture of learners’ performances and identify the existing gaps in knowledge.
Before passing the ESSA act in 2015, schools and universities established their assessment practices to comply with the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), which required frequent testing. Consequently, many states started utilizing multiple-choice tests, especially in schools providing ELL education (Cook-Harvey et al., 2016). Standardized tests often expect students to use language on the academic level to show a deep understanding of a presented issue and engage in complex analyses (Heritage, 2016). For example, such a mathematics test requires individuals to explain, construct arguments, and provide critical analysis of the reasoning presented by other people. At the same time, some tests, including simply picking one answer out of a stated list, also fail to show the ELLs’ literacy level adequately.
Informal assessment tools are tailored to suit the needs of particular ELLs, but they lack recognition on an official basis. School leaders and teachers, striving to get a more detailed portrait of a student, often create an assessment with instructions in the student’s native language. Today, ESSA allows using portfolios, adaptive assessments, open-ended essays, and projects at the state level or providing a summative assessment of student growth (Cook-Harvey et al., 2016). For example, the San Francisco International High School (SFIHS) assesses students’ progress through their portfolios (Cook-Harvey et al., 2016). Informal assessments could obtain the opportunity to become widespread and widely accepted if states recognize their effectiveness.
Statement on Assessments
Concerns for Language Assessments
The standardized language assessments are rather rigid in their assessment of language skills. Sometimes, learners should obtain special training, including thoughtless drilling, to show better results in such tests. Some language assessments might be one-directional as one focuses on only one kind of required skill. A valid assessment should provide realistic scores and reflect all language competencies of a student.
Tools Used to Assess Language
In the entry stage, most states require schools to apply The Language Use Survey or Home Language Survey to assess students’ language practices in English and their native language (Gottlieb, 2016). In addition, they should utilize a short English language proficiency screener to identify ELLs. Further language assessment measures could include standardized tests and informal tests of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. For example, standardized tests used in Texas in the 2018-2019 school year included the IDEA Proficiency Test, Language Assessment System, Stanford English Language Proficiency Test, Test of English Language Learning, and Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (Division of English Learner Support, 2018). Florida Department of Education (n. d.) uses ACCESS for ELLs.
As ESSA focuses on developing and measuring higher-order problem-solving and critical thinking skills, ELLs’ assessments should be elaborated to accurately reflect the literacy of a specific individual and mitigate difficulties related to language competency skills. For example, instructions should be presented in native and English languages or include pictures and symbols to better understand. In addition, tools used for language assessment should be adjusted to the cultural background of ELLs because some conceptions and situations presented in tests could be misinterpreted by a person lacking the local sociocultural information.
With a high purpose of contributing to equal educational opportunities for individuals of different backgrounds, the government recommends that professionals adjust their assessment tools. First, when elaborating on assessment strategy, teachers should supplement their deep knowledge of the subject they teach with English language development standards (Heritage, 2016). Consequently, they should integrate the contents of the two standards into their everyday lesson plans to effectively meet ELLs’ needs. Teachers also should use assessment tools for tactical planning: timely assessment enables noting the obstacles in students’ progress. Teachers also might involve students in self-assessment practices as responsible regulators of their learning processes (Heritage, 2016). Students might be involved in creating assessment tools because they have first-hand knowledge of difficulties and peculiarities related to the simultaneous acquisition of literacy and language skills.
In conclusion, standardized tests establishing the elevated requirements for education quality could compromise disadvantaged and minority students’ rights to education. Conversely, fair and valid assessment practices will pave the way to more inclusive education. Assessment of progress adjusted to individual requirements is valuable because ELLs are not a homogeneous group: they are people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, various interests, and exposure to English. Therefore, teachers should avoid using standardized tests to assess students acquiring their language competence and replace them with more flexible tools.
Cook-Harvey, C.M., Darling-Hammond, L., Lam, L., Mercer, C., & Roc, M. (2016). Equity and ESSA: Leveraging educational opportunity through the Every Student Succeeds Act. Learning Policy Institute.
Division of English Learner Support. (2018). List of approved tests for assessment of English learners, 2018-2019 school year. Texas Education Agency Department of Special Populations.
Florida Department of Education. (n. d.) ACCESS for ELLs.
Gottlieb, M. (2016). Assessing English language learners: Bridges to educational equity (2nd ed.). Corwin.
Heritage, M. (2016). Foreword. In M. Gottlieb, Assessing English language learners: Bridges to educational equity (2nd ed., pp. 16-7). Corwin.