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Test in the Works for ELLs with Severe Disabilities

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A consortium of states is creating a test for English-language learners that will be the first of its kind, and the effort just got a boost of about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education. That grant of a little more than $1 million is part of the $7.5 million in grants for test development that U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced last Friday.

The new test will be the first English-language-proficiency test designed for English-language learners who have severe disabilities.

The test developer is the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA, which has 19 states as members. The new test will be an alternative to WIDA's English-language proficiency test, ACCESS for ELLs.

Craig Albers, an assistant professor of educational psychology in the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is the principal investigator for the project. He's already been developing the assessment, and has field tested a model.

Tim Boals, the executive director of WIDA, told me over the telephone today that the federal funding enables the consortium to be more comprehensive in its development of the new test than previously planned. "The hard work is the comparability piece ... doing the studies that make sure the U.S. Department of Education won’t shut it down later on, as they have with so many that didn’t show comparability, reliability, and validity."

Mr. Boals predicts that a roll-out of part of the new test system could happen in the spring of 2010. He said that WIDA expects to provide two models as the alternative to its English-language proficiency test. One will be a portfolio model, in which students' work is gathered, and another will be a performance model, based on a set of tasks done by students and observations by teachers.

Mr. Boals says the test will be designed for students with the most severe disabilities--who make up about 1 percent of ELLs. Mr. Boals noted that WIDA next year will assess 700,000 ELLs, and 1 percent of that is 7,000 students. "It's a small but not insignificant number of kids we didn't think were assessed in a reliable and valid way."

1 Comment

I think this is very necessary because of the test we use in NYS, many people just ignore the ESOL needs of the handicapped student. Many seem to say, Special Education trumps ESOL and that is not technically or legally true. Yet trapping these kids into the cycle of endless testing is not a boon either. I witnessed a couple of weeks ago at my school a mentally retarded and possibly autistic child who was hitting his mother and having a terrible time in the hallway. They were speaking Chinese to each other and I had to stop and think what ESOL services if any did the child receive. He obviously was Chinese speaker and how disconcerting is it to be totally immersed in English only speaking staff. It seemed not to be the best situation. This is also a problem in nursing homes on the other end of the spectrum. Older people who don't speak English are left to caregivers who can't communicate in their language. It can be even more confusing and frustrating.

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