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PARCC Approves Testing Policies for English-Language Learners

UPDATE: PARCC has posted online the materials on accommodations for English-language learners and common-core testing that it made available to its governing board. Please see memo to the board that outlines the contents of the policy; a PowerPoint presentation on the manual, and a draft of the final policy. An edited version is planned for release in late July.

Arlington, Va.

A group of states designing common assessments to measure how well students have mastered the Common Core State Standards today gave its first round of approval to a series of test supports to help English-language learners and students with disabilities demonstrate what they've learned.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC—made up of 22 states—agreed on what will be a "first edition" of the accommodations and accessibility policies that will be field-tested with student test-takers in the 2013-14 school year. Every state but Colorado voted to support the first edition, and that state's objections centered almost entirely on the recommendation that a "read aloud" accommodation be allowed for certain students with disabilities. For a whole lot more detail on that lively discussion, look at Christina Samuel's post at On Special Education.

For English-learners, PARCC's policy urges that any decisions about accommodations for such students be made by more than one individual, and may include English-as-a-second-language and bilingual teachers, content-area teachers, guidance counselors, principals, parents, and students, among others. These same stakeholders should also decide on and assign accommodations to English-learners early in the academic year or upon enrollment, the recommendations say, and no student should encounter an accommodation for the first time on test day. (I wrote a fuller airing of issues around testing accommodations for English-learners earlier this year.)

The policy also call for accommodations to be available to ELLs, in large measure, by the level of their language proficiency. Students at beginning levels of proficiency, for example, can have test directions "clarified" by a test administrator in their native language for both the math and English/language arts tests, though that accommodation is not recommended for ELLs with advanced proficiency. Beginning ELLs will also be allowed to have their oral answers transcribed to text on the math common assessment.

Written word-to-word translations from English to a student's native language are recommended for ELLs with intermediate and advanced proficiency levels. PARCC did not recommend this accommodation for beginning ELLs. The accommodations manual states that students at the lowest levels of proficiency generally benefit more from oral supports than written ones.

Extended time will also be available to all ELLs, regardless of proficiency.

A major issue that PARCC must address, along with Smarter Balanced, the other assessment consortia, is getting member states to agree on a common definition of who an English-language learner is and more universal criteria for determining when ELLs have reached proficiency in the language. That effort also involves the two groups of states working together to create new English-language proficiency tests that will measure the language demands of the common core.

The thorniest accommodation for ELLs has not been addressed yet by PARCC states: Native language translations of assessments. With member states like Arizona—an "English-only" state—and New York—which provides assessments in multiple languages—PARCC staff members said that issue will be more difficult to resolve.

After today's vote, PARCC will work to finalize the first edition of the accommodations document before releasing it publicly on July 25.

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