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Tennessee Rolls Out Simplified English Test for ELLs

Tennessee implemented a new modified English test for English-language learners this spring. It's an alternative to regular state academic-content tests for the subjects of math, reading, science, and social studies, according to Lori Nixon, the coordinator of the modified test for the Tennessee Department of Education. All ELLs were welcome to take it, she said.

I wrote about the test in November.

What's unusual about this alternative-assessment system for ELLs is that Tennessee officials decided to simplify the English for reading as well as other subjects. Some education officials in other states have felt that the English shouldn't be simplified for reading because part of the purpose of a reading test is to assess whether students can handle the complexity of the language.

But Nixon told me in a phone interview today that Tennessee officials disagree with that position. She said Tennessee officials feel that "if the words are stumbling blocks in themselves, and it doesn't affect the content," they should be changed. She said some copyright reading passages couldn't be altered, but in those cases sometimes the test-maker included footnotes that would help an ELL understand the passage.

The point, she said, is for the reading test not to throw off some students by using obscure words.

The state also rolled out a new alternative test for special education students this spring.

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