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One Opinion: New Assessments Should Keep ELLs in Mind

How to accurately test any student's knowledge is a complicated issue, but the concept is even more complex when it comes to testing English-language learners. With assessments already a hot-button issue, the stakes are arguably even higher for ELLs.

As this student population continues to boom in U.S. schools, educators and policymakers need to think seriously about how to measure ELL students' knowledge, David N. Plank writes in an Education Week commentary.

"¿Qué es lo que hace que una rama del gobierno no se vuelva demasiado poderosa?

If you know the answer to this question, congratulations! If you don't, why not? Is it because you don't understand the checks and balances built into the U.S. system of government, or because you don't understand Spanish?

Mr. Plank opens his piece with this example, illustrating one of the many roadblocks non-English speakers may encounter in schools. If a student doesn't understand the question, he or she certainly won't be able to give the correct answer, he says.

That's why the two U.S. Department of Education-funded consortia charged with developing assessments aligned with the new common-core state standards should have an integral focus on the needs of ELLs, Mr. Plank contends. As he sees it, these government-funded groups simply aren't doing enough to help ELLs.

Perhaps he thinks this step, as minimal as it may be, is one in the right direction. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Administration will consider the needs of ELLs when it awards Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program grants.

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