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Virginia's Definition of Test Participation

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Alexander Russo's post today on This Week in Education piqued my interest regarding how the Virginia Department of Education is instructing school administrators to include English-language learners in testing this spring. I've previously noted that after several Virginia school districts put up a good fight in defiance of a federal mandate to give the state's regular reading test to beginning English-language learners this school year, the districts now have agreed to comply with the requirement. The writers of an editorial published in the Washington Post today opined that the Virginia districts did the right thing by backing down.

I got a copy of the April 19 memo Virginia officials sent to schools regarding testing ELLs so I could read it for myself. As Mr. Russo and a Washington Post article yesterday mention, Virginia education officials say that English-language learners will be permitted to stop taking the test if they shake their heads, "No," to indicate they can't continue.

What's also interesting is that the memo spells out procedures for testing participation for all students, not just English-language learners. It says that students who answer at least five questions are considered to have attempted taking the test. In addition, students who DON'T answer at least five questions and officially refuse to continue with the test are also counted as test participants, though their scores are recorded as "0." Both the attempters and refusers are considered in Virginia to be participants in testing under the No Child Left Behind Act and their scores are used for calculating adequate yearly progress, according to the memo.

Those procedures have been applied for testing under NCLB and weren't created in response to the recent conflict with the U.S. Department of Education over testing English-learners, according to Charles B. Pyle, the director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education. He told me in a phone interview today that educators have done their job by putting a test in front of a child--and should be able to count that child as a test participant, even if he or she refuses to take the test. He also noted that it's not just an English-language learner who has the opportunity to stop taking the test by shaking his or her head, "No." Any student can do so.

Counting every student who sits for the test--and doesn't even answer as many as five questions--strikes me as a low bar for test participation, but I'm thinking that other states might have practices similar to those in Virginia. Readers: Could you tell me what your state's policy is on this matter?

1 Comment

Offering the test to a child who answers a few or no questions correctly should still count as including the child in the testing program. Inclusion is the first accountability requirement under NCLB. Next, you have the need to move all students toward the level of proficient. So long as the child makes an effort to answer the questions, the test will provide a moderately accurate measure of where the child is in relation to the proficient category, even if the child does not get credit for successfully answering a single question. Of course, on a multiple-choice test, there is such a thing as a chance score, and the child who does not bother to venture a guess will score below the chance level. But this is not an important issue, since there is little difference between between chance score and zero. Both scores are a long way from proficiency.

The larger issue is “How valid is the test score for a student at that low level?”

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