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Is Utah's English Fluency Bar for ELLs Too High?


In Utah, 39 percent of ELLs in 10th grade who meet the state's standard to be redesignated as fluent in English on the state's regular content test do not meet the bar for English fluency on the state's English-language-proficiency test, according to a study just released by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (See Table 1).

In other words, more than one in three ELLs in 10th grade who meet the bar to exit special programs to learn English (and no longer be an ELL) on the state's regular content English test do not meet the fluency bar on the English-language-proficiency test designed only for and taken only by ELLs.

The study doesn't say this explicitly, but the finding begs the question of whether the standard for reaching fluency on Utah's English-language-proficiency test is too hard. To get out of special programs to learn English in the state, ELLs must score "advanced" on the state's English-proficiency test while also scoring in the top three of six categories (2b or above) on the regular English content test. The study found that 33 percent of ELLs in 10th grade meet the first requirement and 42 percent of ELLs in that same grade meet the second requirement.

"English-language learners are doing what's required of them to be redesignated [as fluent] in greater numbers relative to the content test than the language-proficiency test," said Eric W. Crane, the study's lead author and a senior research associate with the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd, in a phone interview.

At the request of the Utah State Office of Education, REL West at WestEd conducted the study to investigate anecdotal reports that ELLs in Utah were performing better on the state's English content assessment than its English-language proficiency test.

This issue is not unique to Utah. I've blogged before about how I've met students in another state—New York—who have passed that state's English content exam (the regents' exam) without passing the state's English-proficiency test.

CORRECTION (12:50 p.m). This blog post was corrected to say that it's 39 percent of ELLs in 10th grade who meet the state's standards for fluency on the state's regular content test that don't meet the bar on the ELP test, not 39 percent of all ELLs in 10th grade, as a previous version stated.

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