ELL Assessment Groups Move Ahead on Standards, New Tests

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 20, 2013 3 min read
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For teachers who work with English-language learners, there’s more to grasp than the new common standards in English/language arts and mathematics and the coming assessments that go with them. Also coming are new and revamped English-language-proficiency standards connected to the language demands in the common core, and soon, a new set of assessments to measure the progress that ELLs make toward becoming proficient in their new language.

It’s a major shakeup that will play out over the next few years.

So it helps to have those who are most intimately involved with these new standards/testing efforts take the time to step out of the weeds of their work and explain—in a big picture way—what they are doing.

Thanks to the Washington-based Alliance for Education, some of the top experts working on ELP standards and tests appeared in a webinar yesterday to explain the work they are doing and how it will connect to teachers and students in the classroom.

Here’s a short list of highlights from the webinar.

The group of states known as ELPA 21—or the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century consortium—is working most diligently now on developing a set of common English-language-development standards that should be in final form and ready for individual state adoption by the end of the year. Kathleen Vanderwall, a test-design and administration manager for the Oregon Department of Education, said that initial drafts of those standards have already been reviewed by the 11 member states of ELPA 21 and that the final version will be ready for public consumption in the fall.

Oregon is the lead state in ELPA 21, which received a $6.3 million federal grant to develop a new English-language-proficiency assessment. (The standards work is not covered by the grant). The other member states are Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia.

Vanderwall also said that the group will develop an assessment system that includes a diagnostic screener to identify students who are English-learners and in need of services, as well as summative assessments to be used annually to track progress toward proficiency for accountability purposes, as well as for decisions about reclassifying students as fluent in English.

Further along in the same work is a second group of states—the 31-state consortium known as ASSETS, or Assessment Services Supporting ELs through Technology Systems—which is being led by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA, based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Timothy Boals, who is the executive director for WIDA, explained that the five English-language-proficiency standards developed a decade ago remain the same, but have been “amplified” to show teachers more clearly the connections between the content standards in the common core and the academic language necessary to teach across a range of English-language-proficiency levels.

On the assessment side, ASSETS will ultimately be a “comprehensive system,” Boals said, that provides a screener test, a summative test for accountability and reclassification purposes, and interim assessments teachers use to track growth and progress. Like ELPA 21, ASSETS also won a federal grant (more than $10 million) to support the creation of new assessments.

ELL experts Robert Linquanti, of the WestEd research group, and H. Gary Cook from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, were also part of the webinar and talked about their ongoing work to finalize a set of recommendations for states about how to move toward developing a common definition of English-learners. They emphasized the need for a careful, deliberative, multiyear process. Their final recommendations, which will be released by the Council of Chief State School Officers, are due out in July.

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