Addressing Equity Concerns for English Learners: Where Do Native Language Assessments Fit In?
Margie McHugh, Director, National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy
Julie Sugarman, Senior Policy Analyst for PreK-12 Education, MPI
While much of the world’s focus is on disruptions due to COVID-19, conversations about equity in education policy have never been more timely. With major budget cuts inevitable post-pandemic and school accountability systems disrupted, states may find it difficult to develop or sustain important supports for English Learners (ELs). One such support is allowing ELs to take annual state standardized tests in their native language.
Federal law requires ELs to be included in annual state academic achievement tests and to be given accommodations to ensure that test scores accurately reflect what students know and can do in reading, math, and other subjects. The law also encourages—but does not require—states to offer native language assessments as one type of accommodation. Research shows that such assessments, given to ELs at beginning levels of English proficiency and/or who had instruction in their native language, are effective in improving test scores.
However, only 31 states offer native language assessments, and those that do typically only offer them in Spanish and for math. Further, little research or guidance exists to help states figure out to whom the assessments should be given, and in which languages, grades, and subjects. In the last few years, advocates in several states, including California, Florida, and Illinois, have sought to expand the role of native language assessments as part of their accountability systems, seeing them as critical to ensuring policymakers, practitioners, and the public have accurate information about ELs’ academic achievement.
This webchat marks the release of an MPI report on native language assessments, and offers an introduction to the key policy and practical considerations in their implementation. The panelists also discuss how the likely pivot to computer-based learning—accelerated by the pandemic—could affect decisionmaking.