Trend Watch: Native-Language Testing

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 13, 2008 1 min read
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New Jersey recently began providing some state tests for English-language learners in Spanish, and thus joined a dozen states that provide versions of their state tests in languages other than English. In addition, Washington state has set a tentative goal of translating state tests into 10 languages by 2009.

The 2008 Washington state legislature has approved $1.7 million for translating state tests and expanding forms designed for special education students. This year state officials conducted a pilot study on the use of test translations.

I got this information about New Jersey and Washington from communications staff for departments of education in those states after Charles W. Stansfield, the president and founder of Second Language Testing, Inc., told me that the group of states developing or providing native-language assessments is growing.

Mr. Stansfield just co-authored a paper documenting states’ policies on native-language testing for accountability purposes under the No Child Left Behind Act through the 2006-2007 school year. The paper, “Standards-Based Assessment in the Native Language: A Practical Guide to the Issues,” was financed by the U.S. Department of Education.

As it turns out, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin all offer either translations or adaptations of their assessments in languages other than English.

Mr. Stansfield and co-author Melissa Bowles, an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discuss considerations for developing and using such tests. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Back in 1996, Rhode Island education officials realized that the tests they had translated into Khmer and Lao weren’t of much use because most students from Cambodia and Laos in Rhode Island schools weren’t literate in their native languages.

The authors say that native-language assessments are popular with teachers and students.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.