Make Your Voice Heard: ELLs and SDs on “The Nation’s Report Card”

By Sean Cavanagh — January 16, 2009 2 min read

In the wake of the attention being paid to English language learners these days (by this newspaper and others) as well as students with disabilities, the public will be given a chance to influence an important policy affecting those students over the next few weeks.

Two public hearings have been scheduled to discuss the options for testing ELLs and students with disabilities on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, commonly known as “the nation’s report card.”

The hearings, to be held Jan. 30 and Feb. 4, will focus on efforts to bring more uniformity to the rules governing when ELLs and students with disabilities can be excluded from the NAEP, and receive special accommodations on it. Currently, states’ policies on exclusions and accommodations are all over the map, and as a result, the numbers of students they choose not to test, or offer special help, vary greatly. Those inconsistencies have led critics to question the legitimacy of NAEP scores in some jurisdictions.

The Jan. 30 hearing will be held in El Paso, Texas, at the University of Texas at El Paso, in the El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center, Wiggins Road, across from the campus library. The Feb. 4 event will be held in Washington, DC, at the Great Hall of the Charles Sumner School, 1201 17th Street, NW. Both hearings start at 9:30 a.m and last through the mid-afternoon. A committee of the National Assessment Governing Board is hosting the hearings, and public input is welcome. More details are available at the NAGB web site. They’re also accepting written testimony, which you can e-mail to them at

The governing board is mulling over a number of potential fixes to the exclusions/accommodations issue. These include setting uniform national policies for testing the students; altering the method for giving the NAEP through approaches such as “targeted testing”; adding “cautionary flags” if a jurisdiction’s exclusion or accommodations numbers get too big; expanding or cutting the number of allowable accommodations; setting “reasonable” exclusion/accommodation rates, based on states’ demographics and testing policies; and changing how exclusion and accommodation rates are reported to the public in NAEP reports.

It’s a very tangled issue for the governing board, for several reasons. States and cities set their own policies on testing those populations. Many decisions are left to local education officials dealing with students’ individualized education programs.

The surest sign of how much trouble this issue gives the governing board is the fact that they haven’t found a solution yet. Maybe you can help them.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.