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Minnesota Drops Test Translations

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 12, 2005 1 min read
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The accountability requirements for English-language learners in the federal No Child Left Behind Act have spurred some states to write tests in students’ native languages.

But those requirements have had the opposite effect in Minnesota. Education officials there have decided to stop translating the state’s mathematics test into the four languages most commonly spoken by English-language learners in the state: Hmong, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Minnesota gives its reading test only in English.

Starting with the 2005-06 school year, the state won’t provide translated versions of its math test, which have been offered since 1998. The decision was made because “the stakes are higher” under the 3½-year-old federal education law than previously for English-language learners, said Julie M. Henderson, the supervisor for English-language-learner assessments for the Minnesota Department of Education.

She said research shows that providing translations of regular tests is not the best way to include English-language learners in standardized testing. So, come next spring, the next time that the state’s tests are administered, Minnesota will instead let English-language learners use glossaries in their native languages while taking the math test. In spring 2007, the state hopes to have crafted a version of its math test for English-language learners in rudimentary English.

Providing tests in students’ native languages makes the most sense when states have a lot of students in bilingual programs, which is not the case in Minnesota, Ms. Henderson said. And tests in foreign tongues should be designed from the ground up, not simply through the translation of test items from English, as Minnesota has done, she said.

Plus, Ms. Henderson noted, it’s not fair to offer a test in only four of the 102 languages spoken by English-language learners in the state.

The No Child Left Behind Act permits schools to test such students in their native languages for the first three years they attend U.S. schools and an additional two years on a student-by-student basis.

Ten other states this past school year administered tests in students’ native languages.

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