Educators are worried about students losing ground while school buildings are closed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The so-called coronavirus- or “COVID slide” may be especially troublesome for English-language learners, the 5 million students still learning English in the nation’s K-12 schools. Many of them could fall farther behind because of a confluence of factors, including limited access to the internet and the language support services they often receive in school.
Along with their native English-speaking peers, English-learners likely will face a battery of tests when school resumes to gauge what they’ve learned and lost during the extended school closures—but those assessments may not fully reflect what they know and can do in academic subjects, especially if they cannot demonstrate their knowledge in English.
A new policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute explores the policy and practical questions for states considering implementing native-language assessments, tests that may be better suited to gauge what students know and what subjects they need support in apart from their English-language instruction.
“With high-stakes accountability likely to remain a fixture of the U.S. education system and increasing recognition of the value of multilingualism for students’ future and the U.S economy, it is more important than ever to ensure that education policymakers have the means to capture a full and accurate picture of EL academic achievement,” the brief’s authors, Julie Sugarman and Leslie Villegas, wrote.
The authors argue that native-language assessments are tools to measure students’ grasp of concepts, not just their English proficiency. However, not all schools and states offer assessments in languages other than English.
Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states must “make every effort” to develop statewide assessments in students’ first languages if they constitute a significant portion of the student population. But the law stops short of requiring the assessments.
According to the Migration Policy brief, 31 states plus the District of Columbia offer native language assessments, most commonly in math or science but sometimes in reading-language arts and social studies, too.
Since some states and districts have no native-language assessments of their own, many use the Northwest Evaluation Association, the maker of the widely used MAP assessments, which are also available in Spanish, to gauge the academic growth of their English-learners. Nearly three-fourth of the nation’s English-learners are native Spanish speakers.
English-learner students are “not in the environment they’re used to where they’re getting input to be able to practice, to be able to interact,” said Teresa Krastel, who guides content development for the Spanish MAP Growth and Spanish MAP Reading Fluency assessments for NWEA.
“That, in combination with the limitations we’ve seen all over the place, the limitations in equity, access to tools, teachers in an online environment not directly targeting skills that English-language learners need to practice,” are cause for concern, Krastel said.
Schools typically use the NWEA assessments three times per year, in the fall, winter, and spring. Roughly 160,000 students took the NWEA Spanish assessments in fall 2019; that number dropped down to 5,000 students for the spring 2020 testing period, said Adam Withycombe, manager of assessment products for NWEA.
“We anticipate that that kind of COVID slide is going to be pretty dramatic,” Withycombe said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be even more so for English-learners.”
It remains unclear if the coronavirus-related school closures will spur demand for native-language assessments, but they are needed for a “fair and accurate accountability system,” said Sugarman, a senior education policy analyst at the Migration Policy Center’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.