English Language Learners in the United States are required to regularly take an English Language Proficiency Assessment to….assess their progress towards learning English.
Several years ago, the federal government funded two separate state consortia to develop new versions of these tests (you can read many articles about that saga in the second-half of The Best Resources For Learning About The “Next Generation” Of State Testing). But several states split off from those consortia, including ones with the largest number of ELLs, to create their own. English Language Proficiency (ELP) Assessments is an article from New America that summarized the lay of the ELL testing land today.
Our state of California, in its infinite wisdom, was one of those states that chose to go it alone.
We used to administer a test called CELDT. The new test is called the ELPAC (English Language Proficiency Assessments for California). And this year it’s taken all online.
And, across the country, these assessments are being taken a bit more seriously because there part of the new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (see The Best Resources For Learning How The Every Student Succeeds Act Affects English Language Learners).
I’m not sure how accurately the ELPAC (or any of these state tests) gauge English progress. You can check out the ELPAC practice test site here to see for yourself. I’d be interested in hearing from ELL teachers in other states about if you think your state’s assessment does do a good job.
Last week, we had all of our four-hundred ELLs take a practice test to help them gain familiarity with the online interface. Research on other state tests have found that not being familiar with the tech can sometimes result in these kinds of assessments doing a better job at evaluating tech knowledge instead of content knowledge (see Study: Do Tests On Computers Assess Academic or Technological Abilities?).
In talking to students about how they felt about taking the test online, there was a clear divide: Over ninety-percent of high intermediate and advanced ELLs preferred the online tests over the pencil-and-paper version. However, it seemed like a sizable majority of our Beginners and Intermediates did not like it. As one said, “It is better for me to sit with a human.”
So much of the test is not understandable to less English-proficient students, it makes sense to me that they would feel more safe taking it with a more empathetic teacher then sitting in front of a screen with forty-or-more other students.
If this is the case, I wonder if it might make sense for schools to try to have smaller groups of less English-proficient ELLs take the test online so teachers can regularly provide more reassurance? Of course, that option might not be practical.
What has been your experience in general with your state ELL tests? And have you gotten similar feedback from your students?
ELLs in Texas are required to take an online test. (We have all seen the research of computer vs. paper reading.) The state of Texas has not released a copy of a previous test. The sample practice questions that they have provided online are only for the beginners so, “Everyone can do them.” (An exact quote from a member of TEA and Pearson when I asked why.) Teachers and districts are judged by the results of a test they have never seen, nor seen a rubric for but are required to give. The test has not been normed with English speaking peers except the initial year it was given. There is no white paper on the exam. ELLs are required to pass all the tests that the Americans pass to graduate but they are the only group in public schools that is required to prove their abilities in speaking and listening. This includes 5 writing samples, a speaking, a reading and a listening test that other groups are not required to pass. Could all American born, English speaking high school students pass these exams? No one knows. To add insult to injury, Texas requires students to a make a year’s growth per year, which would mean proficiency in 4 years. According to the rubric,. “Nearly comparable to native English speaking peers.” Research has not shown language acquisition takes 4 years but Texas lawmakers have decided it does. I would agree with you that there seems to be a divide by level as to whether they prefer paper or computer. Those who prefer computer often prefer it not because they can do better on it, but simply because they would rather an electronic task over a manual one. The greater concern to me is the narrative that lawmakers are making about a population and their educators based on a test, that is severely flawed before anyone has even taken it.