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ELLs Need More Attention in Common Assessment Groups, Reports Say

The two groups of states working to design new common assessments need to devote more time and attention to English-language learners and students with disabilities, conclude new reviews from the U.S. Department of Education.

In its first-ever technical reviews of the test-development efforts underway by two state consortia—the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and Smarter Balanced—the federal education department is calling for both groups to focus more sharply on developing test items that all students, including those who are still learning English, can fully access regardless of their level of language proficiency.

Ed Week's common core/common assessment guru, Catherine Gewertz, has a fuller explanation of the technical reviews over at Curriculum Matters, and the reviews themselves on Smarter Balanced and PARCC are available on the Education Department's website.

One of the foremost experts on the assessment of English-learners, Rebecca Kopriva, a senior scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, is on the technical review committee that looked at the test development work of the two consortia so far.

Both state groups are still working on the types of testing supports that they will provide to English-learners and students with disabilities. PARCC is farther along than Smarter Balanced on that front—its governing board last month approved what will amount to a "first edition" of the accommodations and accessibility policies for ELLs and students with disabilities. Those supports will be field-tested with students in the 2013-14 school year.

When it comes to accommodations and accessibility, the two consortia have their work cut out for them in getting large groups of states—with widely divergent test policies—to agree on a common way to assess students. On the English-learner side, there are major differences to settle around the use of native language translations and other accommodations that have been widely used, but may not be valid and reliable for students who are still learning the language.

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