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Test Supports for ELLs: Differences Between PARCC and Smarter Balanced

Students across the country right now are test driving new common-core aligned assessments, including thousands of English-learners, who will have very different experiences depending on which test they are taking and where they happen to live.

My colleague Liana Heitin has a really good story that explains the major differences between the two major test consortia—Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career—when it comes to testing supports and accommodations for English-language learners and students with disabilities. Her story is part of a new Education Week special report on the widespread rollout of the common-core standards and the coming assessments designed to measure how well students have mastered those standards.

When it comes to English-learners, the starkest difference between Smarter Balanced and PARCC is around translations of their respective math tests into other languages. The upshot is that Smarter Balanced is offering translations on its math exam—both a full Spanish translation, as well as computer-based glossaries in 10 languages. PARCC, on the other hand, will provide a Spanish translation of its math test if a state requests one and foots the bill. PARCC, at this point, does not offer embedded glossaries in other languages, but will allow English-learners to use paper glossaries.

Advocates for ELLs are worried about the limitations of paper glossaries that may not have the rigorous academic language that students will encounter on the tests.

Most of PARCC's rationale for having limited language supports for English-learners is the wide variety of laws and rules in each of its states when it comes to uses of languages other than English in assessment.

As Stanford University professor and ELL expert Kenji Hakuta told Liana about differences between the two groups when it comes to supports for ELLs: "PARCC is definitely more conventional in their approach."

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