US: Language Provision in NCLB Draft Plan Criticized

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Sep 4 15:23:25 UTC 2007

 September 5, 2007
Language Provision in NCLB Draft Plan Criticized
By Mary Ann Zehr

Educators and representatives of groups that follow issues involving
English-language learners raised practical concerns last week about
how a draft plan to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act would
affect those students. Particularly troublesome, they said, is a
proposal in the "staff discussion draft" released by the House
Education and Labor Committee to require states with more than 10
percent of ELLs who share the same language to create native-language
assessments for that language group.

 At the least, most states would have to come up with new tests for
reading and mathematics in Spanish. Fewer than a dozen states have
developed such tests. Such a requirement could also force certain
states to come up with assessments in far less common languages—Hmong,
in Wisconsin, for example, or Ojibwa, in North Dakota.
Aside from noting the difficulty and expense of crafting such tests,
academic experts say that native-language assessments work well only
if they are used in conjunction with bilingual instruction, which is
not required.

"The major omission here is a lack of attention to the language of
instruction," said Jamal Abedi, an education professor at the
University of California, Davis. "Research says clearly that if
students aren't taught in their native language, then the assessment
in the native language doesn't do any good." In other provisions, the
draft plan would set a deadline of two years from enactment of the
NCLB reauthorization for states to devise alternative assessments that
could be used for some English-language learners, such as simplified
English, portfolio, or native-language tests.

It also would permit states to use tests of English-language
proficiency instead of regular reading tests during that two-year
window for ELLs with low levels of English proficiency, a practice
that the federal Department of Education required Virginia and New
York state to drop last school year. Experts on ELLs agreed, however,
that one particular proposal in the draft was on the mark: States
would have to identify testing accommodations, such as reading test
items aloud, for English-learners and show how they would prepare
teachers to use those accommodations appropriately.

Advocates Split

The idea of requiring assessments in the native language drew the
strongest early reactions last week from ELL advocates. Mari B.
Rasmussen, the director of programs for English-learners in North
Dakota, called the proposal "ridiculous" because at least 10 percent
of her state's ELLs come from Ojibwa-speaking homes and, presumably,
the state would have to create a test in that Native American

But Peter Zamora, the Washington regional counsel for the Mexican
American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, favored the requirement,
saying it might encourage more school districts to implement bilingual
education. "We've seen a resistance [by states] to developing
native-language assessments," Mr. Zamora said. "This should provide a
greater incentive to break through some of the bad politics around
bilingual education."

Another advocate of bilingual education, James Crawford, the president
of the Institute for Language and Education Policy, in Takoma Park,
Md., noted that the draft says that states would be required to
develop native-language tests—but only if that requirement was
"consistent with state law." He characterized that language as "a
loophole" and predicted that "it might create a perverse incentive for
states to outlaw those assessments for students who could benefit from
them." Aaron Albright, press secretary for Democrats on the House
education committee, addressed that prediction by e-mail: "We haven't
seen a race to enact English-language-only laws for testing in the
past and don't expect to see one in the future if these proposed
clarifications are enacted."

One reader of the plan was disappointed that it said states could use
portfolio tests as an option for alternative tests for ELLs. Don
Soifer, the executive vice president of the Lexington Institute, a
think tank in Arlington, Va., that generally opposes bilingual
education, said such tests might be acceptable for use in an
individual classroom, but not for school accountability purposes.
"They are not objective. They are inconsistently applied," he said.

He also is against a proposal in the draft that school districts could
use native-language assessments for five years—up from three years in
the current NCLB law—with the option of giving the tests for an
additional two years to some students on a case-by-case basis.

Vol. 27, Issue 02, Page 21
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