A Measure of Fluency
Determining if students are fluent enough in English to keep up with regular classroom work is not easy for educators who work with immigrant children.
But California may be getting closer to resolving that issue than some other states, thanks to its new California English Language Development Test. The CELDT is believed to be the first standardized test commissioned by a state to assess English-language learners’ progress in English. This month, the California Department of Education released students’ scores for the first year of the CELDT.
As it turned out, 25 percent of students who had been previously identified as English-language learners scored high enough to meet the state’s cutoff point for fluency.
That’s much higher than the percentage of students that California school districts tend to reclassify as fluent each year. Last year, only 9 percent of English-language learners on average across the state were reclassified as fluent.
With about 1.5 million English- language learners in the state, it makes a big difference whether 9 percent or 25 percent are considered fluent and moved out of special programs each year.
The state is leaving it to districts to mesh the test results with their own reclassification practices.
The 141,000-student San Diego district, for example, classified only 8 percent of English-language learners as fluent last year, while this year 38 percent of such students scored at or above the cutoff point for fluency on the CELDT.
Not all of the students who scored as fluent this year will automatically be redesignated as such, said Terry Walter, the program manager for biliteracy and English-learner support for San Diego schools. Reclassification, she said, will still depend on criteria other than test scores, such as teacher recommendations, as always.
But she does expect that the redesignation rate will dramatically rise in the San Diego district and others across the state.
—Mary Ann Zehr
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2002 edition of Education Week