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Researchers Advise Race to Top Applicants on ELLs

States need to give test developers explicit instructions on how to avoid unnecessary linguistic complexity when designing content tests. They need to provide detailed guidelines to school districts on how to select and use testing accommodations for students. Those are two of the recommendations in a new research brief on how to include ELLs appropriately in academic content assessments.

"Our audiences are both Race to the Top and states," said Joan L. Herman, the director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, which is housed at the University of California, Los Angeles. The center released the research brief. She said she hopes the brief will get into the hands of states that are part of the consortia competing for grants through the $350 million assessment competition of the federal Race to the Top program. The deadline for applications for that competition is June 23.

But also, Herman said, recommendations in the brief are intended to guide states in their policies for developing English-language-proficiency standards, for identifying students as ELLs and reclassifying them as proficient in the language, and for developing teacher capacity.

One recommendation is that English-language-proficiency standards and tests need to be better aligned. For example, the researchers write that some states have "clear mismatches" between the proficiency levels (i.e., beginning, intermediate, and advanced) in their standards and in their tests. In turn, English-proficiency standards and tests need to be better aligned with state content standards, they add. The researchers join the chorus of researchers who are calling for states to standardize their criteria for identification and reclassification of ELLs statewide.

Researchers say that states also need to revisit their English-language-proficiency standards to make sure they support development of "academic English," or the language of school.

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