What’s an English-Proficiency Score Good For?

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 27, 2009 2 min read
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How students score in reading and writing on an English-language-proficiency test is a good indicator of how they will score on their state’s tests for reading, writing, and mathematics that are given to all students. That’s what a study of 5th and 8th graders who took the English-proficiency test developed by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment consortium, or WIDA, concluded. Researchers for the study, which was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that students’ scores in the domains of reading and writing on the test were stronger predictors in how they did on regular academic tests than their scores in speaking and listening on the test.

The 5th and 8th graders in the study were from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which are all members of WIDA and thus use the ACCESS for ELLs English-proficiency test. Students in those states also take the same academic content tests, called the New England Common Assessment Program.

This is the first study I’ve seen commissioned by the Education Department that looks closely at the relationship between any of the new English-proficiency tests that were created to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act and states’ regular academic tests.

Essentially, the findings of the study show that ACCESS for ELLs is working in that it is providing scores that are meaningful in determining if English-language learners are ready to show what they know on the tests designed for native speakers of English. I would think this would be good news for the 19 states that are members of WIDA and use that test. Of course, we have to keep in mind that the study, conducted by the Regional Educational Laboratory at Education Development Center Inc., looks only at students in three states.

It appears that the English-proficiency tests used in some other states may not be as good at measuring where students stand in being able to do well on their states’ regular tests. For example, in California, while 66 percent of 10th graders were able in 2006 to pass the state’s English-proficiency test at a level considered to be “proficient,” only 4 percent were able to pass California’s regular English-language-arts test. That information was just reported in a new book The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, by Patricia Gandara and Frances Contreras.

I hope more researchers will start examining how scores that ELLs get on English-proficiency tests translate into how well they can do on regular content tests and in mainstream classrooms.

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