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How to Make an English-Proficiency Test

This is a story about how states have been required to do something under federal law, and only NOW are getting a handbook from the federal government on how to do it.

The No Child Left Behind Act required states, for the first time, to develop English-proficiency standards and tests and assess English-language learners every year in grades K-12. The English-proficiency testing is an extra layer on top of the requirement that all students, including ELLs, must take mathematics and reading tests in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. (ELLs are exempted from taking the reading test for one year after they arrive in the country.)

By the end of the 2005-06 school year, 44 states and the District of Columbia had implemented new and comprehensive English-proficiency tests to comply with the law. And the rest of the states have also gotten on board by administering English-proficiency tests since then, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed today.

Apparently, it wasn't an easy task. Through the LEP Partnership, an effort by the federal government to help states with testing ELLs, states asked the Education Department for more guidance.

At a Oct. 28 meeting of the LEP Partnership, the Education Department released a draft of a "framework" for creating English-proficiency standards and tests.

The wording in the draft of the framework seems intended to send the message that the Education Department is not telling states what to do, but rather trying to give them help. Many of the recommendations, for instance, are characterized as "possible considerations" for states. One possible consideration, for example, is that states will involve people knowledgeable about ELLs with disabilities in creating English-proficiency tests.

The deadline for comments on the draft is Dec. 15.

Margarita Pinkos, the acting director of the office of English-language acquisition, noted to me in an e-mail message that the Education Department "is inviting states to use the framework document as a tool to examine the quality of their English-language-proficiency assessments and standards."

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