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How to Create English-Proficiency Standards and Tests

WestEd researchers today released a guide they'd been working on for 18 months, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, to help states create standards and tests for English-language proficiency. It's a clearly written guide that poses a lot of important issues for states to consider, such as who serves on the committee to craft standards and tests for ELLs, what is the intended purpose of them, and to whom that purpose is communicated.

Of course, you don't have to remind me that all states have already created English-proficiency standards and tests, which were required by the No Child Left Behind Act. I've written about this topic here and here, and Quality Counts 2009 provided an update here. ("Perspectives on a Population" even says which English-proficiency test each state is using.)

But the guide can be used, according to what the researchers say in the introduction, to evaluate the existing English-proficiency standards and test in a state. In addition, the researchers say, while the standards might be fine, states may need to do much more work to implement them.

I like the guide's emphasis on implementation because I've talked with a number of folks who say the standards aren't reaching the classroom in a meaningful way in some school districts. English-as-a-second-language teachers, bilingual teachers, content-area teachers, and administrators should all receive training on the standards, the criteria in the framework say. In addition, states need systems to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the standards down to the classroom level.

One more thing. The guide contains this interesting statement:

The framework was developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

In other words: Proceed at your own risk.

I presumed the statement was included because the U.S. Department of Education is in transition, but Mark Kerr, a spokesman for WestEd, tells me it's a standard disclaimer that must be put on all publications commissioned by the Education Department but produced by an entity outside the department.

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