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Testing ELLs, Spec. Ed. Students on the NAEP: Feds Seek Public Input

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The National Assessment of Educational Progress bills itself as "the nation's report card"—and in fact, it serves as the country's only continuing, nationally representative test of what students know in different subjects. Yet for years, officials who run the test have struggled with a difficult issue: How to set consistent policies for the testing of English language learners and students with disabilities. Currently, those students' participation on the test is determined largely by state and local decisions. As a result, the portion of students excluded from the NAEP, or given special accommodations on it, varies widely among states and cities. To some critics, this undermines the test's credibility. How can we be certain that student achievement rose or fell in a jurisdiction, the thinking goes, if its exclusion or accommodation rates were unusually high or low?

As I reported a couple weeks ago (before I bolted from town on a vacation), two expert panels of the board that sets policy for NAEP have proposed major changes to its policies for testing ELLs and spec-ed students. The proposals seek to bring more uniformity to the process. For students with disabilities, a task force has called for setting a uniform expectation of 95 percent participation on the test. Perhaps most critically, it proposes that students would only be allowed to receive special accommodations on the exam if they were allowed by the rules of the NAEP (rather than by any particular jurisdiction's standard.)

For ELLs, a second task force is recommending that all students selected to participate in the NAEP who have attended U.S. schools for at least one year take part in the exam. Again, it's a more consistent standard than what exists now.

The National Assessment Governing Board is seeking public comment on the proposals for both ELLs and spec-ed students. The board also expects to hold public hearings this fall, before its members vote on the proposals, probably in either November or March.

These issues have generated a lot of interest from advocates for ELLs and special education students in the past. If you'd like to make your voice heard, here's your chance.

3 Comments

Excellent news. Standardizing the sampling process was one of the first things NAEP did well. If they get the test administration process consistent as well, it can only help the quality of the NAEP tests. Many states have specific guidelines about how to assess ELL populations on their NCLB tests available in their technical reports. I assume the panel(s) is taking this information to yield an approach that reflects an combination of these policies to get to a "best practice".

The test would be valuable if its standards include a rigorous writng part, which seeks to evaluate reading--based writing skills.

A test of content for ELLs becomes a test of their English proficiency, not what they know of the content being tested. This is especially true if they take a content test in English after one year of schooling in the USA.

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