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May 07, 2013 3 min read
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New Details Emerge On English-Learner Assessment Group

Thanks to the folks at the K-12 Center at the Educational Testing Service, we now have the best snapshot to date of what the group of states known as ELPA 21 has planned for developing a new English-language-proficiency test that will be directly connected to the language demands in the Common Core State Standards.

ELPA21—or the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century consortium—started as a group of a dozen states that landed a $6.3 million grant last fall from the U.S. Department of Education to develop the new test. It is one of two groups of states creating a new assessment to measure the progress of English-learners. Oregon is the lead state in the consortium.

The other group—the 31-state consortium known as ASSETS, or Assessment Services Supporting ELs through Technology Systems—is also creating a new assessment on behalf of its member states. That work is being led by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

ELPA 21 is at least a year behind ASSETS, which won its grant in 2011. It has also had a bit of upheaval in its first months, when original member California decided to withdraw, taking its 1.4 million English-learners from the group. But 11 states remain, including ELL-rich Florida.

The ETS brief offers ELPA 21’s timeline for test development, a description of its governance and accountability, and a graphic representation of the components of the assessment system the group is designing.

— Lesli A. Maxwell


Benefits of AP Program Questioned By Researcher

More and more high school students are enrolling in Advanced Placement courses with the hope that the experience will better prepare them for college and boost their chances in the application process.

But an analysis of AP research by a Stanford University faculty member calls into question the consistency of AP courses and blanket claims about the benefits.

The College Board, which oversees the program, strongly defends the program and suggests bias by the researcher.

The newly released paper, “The Advanced Placement Program: Living Up to Its Promise?” by Denise Pope, a senior lecturer and co-founder of the research and advocacy organization Challenge Success, is a review of more than 20 studies on AP courses. Pope highlights studies that support the success of AP as well as others that show where the program falls short, concluding that parents and students should look closely at the program in their school before investing the time and money in an AP course.

She suggests there is lack of proof that the AP program caused the students to be successful in college.

“It should come as no surprise that the same motivated, hardworking, and advanced students who take AP classes in high school are still motivated, hardworking, successful students when they get to the university,” Pope writes. Student success in college may not be attributable to AP programs alone, she concludes, and more research is needed.

Last year, nearly one in five high school graduates scored a 3 or higher (out of a possible 5) on an AP exam. That is up from 18.1 percent who passed in 2011 and 11.6 percent among the class of 2002. There were 954,070 public school students who took at least one AP exam last year, or 32.4 percent of 2012 graduates, up from 30.2 percent the year before and 18 percent of graduates in 2002, according to the most recent AP report from the College Board.

In an email response, Trevor Packer, a senior vice president for Advanced Placement at the College Board, said he agreed that any studies claiming benefits for AP must rule out alternative explanations for college success.

“The problem with Ms. Pope’s analysis is that she fails to separate studies that analyze the benefit of simply taking an AP course (regardless of the grade or exam score) from studies that analyze the benefit of learning enough to succeed on the AP exam,” he wrote. Researchers have consistently found that students who scored a 3 or higher on AP exams do achieve higher college GPAs, Packer notes.

Packer writes that Pope is misleading readers by selectively choosing findings to report and suppressing evidence favorable toward AP. He suggests her opposition to “test scores and performance” through her organization has influenced her descriptions of the research.

In an interview, Pope said her work reflects both positive and negative findings regarding the AP program.

“I do see pros and cons. It’s not black and white, not all good or bad,” she said.

— Caralee J. Adams

A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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