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California Drops Out of ELL Assessment Consortium

California education officials have dropped out of a group of a dozen states that had organized around the need to develop a new English-language proficiency assessment that will measure the language demands of the Common Core State Standards.

The state had planned to be part of ELPA 21—or the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century consortium—which is led by Oregon and funded by a $6.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. California's inclusion in the consortium was significant because the state's public schools educate 1.4 million English-language learners, more than any other state. ELL-rich Florida is also part of the group.

Deb Sigman, the deputy state superintendent for the California department of education, told me today that the decision to take a pass on formally signing a memorandum of understanding to fully participate in the consortium was a tough one because the work of the group of states is "headed in the right direction."

California needs a new English-language proficiency test, she said, but state education officials did not want to halt the forward momentum they have created by recently adopting new English-language development standards. One condition in the ELPA 21 agreement, she said, was that all member states would have to adopt the same English-language-development standards by next fall.

"That made us uncomfortable," Sigman said. "We've already done this. We didn't want to put an artificial stop to where we were."

She said that while representatives of the ELPA 21 states had casually discussed adopting the new California standards for all members of the consortium, that idea hadn't gotten much traction.

"The consortium had to rightly acknowledge that member states have to view all of this in their own context," she said. "They have to respond to their own communities, legislatures, boards of education, and state chiefs."

Likewise, Tennessee has declined to sign the MOU, though I don't have the details yet on why. Other states in the group include Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia. Oregon's key nonstate partners in this effort are Stanford University and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

So what this means now is that California will be striking out on its own to develop a new English-language proficiency assessment for ELLs. Before ELPA 21, the state had taken a shot as the lead in a group of 15 states hoping to win a federal grant for a new exam, but that proposal was rejected by the Education Department. A separate group of states led by Wisconsin won the first federal grant for a new English-language proficiency assessment—an award of $10.5 million—and is collaborating with the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA, to develop technology-based exams.

Sigman said California is already working on its timeline for developing a test, which she stressed will be new, and not a revision of the California English Language Development Test, or CELDT, which is the current assessment the state uses.


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