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ETS Recommends Changes For English-Language Proficiency Assessments

A new white paper from testmaker Educational Testing Service offers recommendations for how to improve English-language proficiency assessments that are used to how evaluate how English-learners are progressing toward learning the language, as well as meeting the language demands in the Common Core State Standards.

The 36-page report from ETS' Center for K-12 Assessment & Performance Management recommends that the yearly assessments focus on the specific language skills students need to meet the standards, and provide useful and standardized information to teachers, administrators, parents and students.

The authors contend that English-language proficiency assessments largely focus on students' knowledge about English rather than their ability to use the language effectively in school and found that many of these tests are still paper-based, which slows down score turnaround times and limits the efficiency of data management systems. (New assessments under development for use in many states will be administered online.)

The paper makes the case for standardized screening assessments used to determine whether a student is an English-language learner. With varying standards across districts and states, a student identified as an ELL in one district might not get the same identification in a neighboring district, the report indicates.

These recommendations come as states and districts are beginning to transition to new, common-core aligned English-proficiency assessments. Two groups of states—one is ASSETS, which is a project of the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, and the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century, or ELPA 21—are creating those new tests. California and New York are designing their own new annual tests of English-language proficiency.

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