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With NCLB, One Size Fits All--Or Does It Really?


Update: A comment from Charles Stansfield caused me to check out the Ohio Department of Education's Web site and find that Ohio provides translation in Somali for a number of state tests, though students must read portions of the state's reading test in English. So the premise of my blog item is wrong. Ohio education officials, I apologize to you for making a totally wrong assumption.

Original Blog Post: A journalist for the Cleveland Scene has written a thoughtful piece, published April 16, about English-language learners and the No Child Left Behind Act. The article, "How do you pass No Child Left Behind ...when you don't speak English?" is astute in noting how Ohio's accountability system—and thus the federal accountability system as well—doesn't give credit for some accomplishments of ELLs.

Bradley Campbell, the journalist, writes about how a 14-year-old boy, Abdikadir, attending Cleveland's Gallagher School, serves as his teachers' translator for other immigrants from Africa when one of the school's hired translators, Aweys, isn't present in the classroom. The boy is about to move from a program designed for new arrivals to a regular English-as-a-second-language program. Here's the observation that jumped out at me:

Abdikadir functions as the school's interpreter when Aweys is away. He's the only kid who can speak Swahili, Maay-Maay, and Somali, and translate them to English. It's a ridiculous feat for a 14-year-old, but he'll get no acknowledgment from the state. The Ohio Achievement Test, on which the school's fate rests, does not give points to pint-size boys who've mastered multiple languages. The only language that matters is English.

Of course, the No Child Left Behind Act does permit states to develop tests in students' native languages for accountability purposes. But I would imagine the chances are slim that Ohio will create such tests in Swahili, Maay-Maay, or Somali.


Actually, the Ohio Department of Education does make the tests available in Somali, along with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Ohio has done this for several years, with the blessing of the US Deparment of Education, as authorized and encouraged by the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Ohio Dept of Ed policy requires that if the child is ELL that he/she be given a CD containing the test in his native language. Each test item is on a different track, and the child can play the track and hear the item in his native language. If the child speaks a language other than these five, then Ohio requires that the district provide an interpreter who will read the item in the child native language. The Ohio Dept of Ed provides an English script that can be used for the interpretation. This script includes all test directions.
I imagine that it could be frustrating for the Ohio Dept of Ed to be doing all of this and then have journalists completely ignore it. All of this information is readily available to them on the Ohio DOE website.

It seems that the Cleveland Scene journalist was trying to highlight a challenge about which I've heard other staff in other SEAs refer: How to provide testing support to students who speak *low-incidence languages*? If you provide a translated assessment for a few languages, is that "fair" to the other students who don't speak Spanish, Somali, Chinese, Korean, etc? [...or so the argument goes.]

For those other states that are grappling with this challenge, it might be useful to check out what Ohio is doing. Not only does Ohio provide translations of their content area assessments in high frequency languages and oral translation scripts to be used as part of a sight translation for those students who speak low-incidence languages (as Charlie pointed out), but they also have developed a **systematic approach**

  • (a) * for continually determining which translations should be offered* and
  • (b) *for monitoring the use of sight translators*

--a systematic approach that is unique in the U.S., to my knowledge.

In other words, Ohio's system focuses attention on the accommodation not only during the initial development or selection phase, but also on an ongoing basis. Ohio looks at the student population data at systematic intervals to update the languages into which their assessment is translated. Ohio has also designed a set of procedures and requires the sight translation be tape recorded for monitoring purposes to ensure that standard testing conditions are maintained when sight translations are used with the students who speak low-incidence languages.

Check out the information in the *Testing Rules Book* or the *Special Formats for State Assessments* at http://www.ode.state.oh.us (Click on Testing and Assessments in the menu on the left.) or supplemental instructions found in the *oral translation kit* found in the document archive at http://www.ohiodocs.org/2005_2006.htm.

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