Scores for ELLs Increase on California’s English-Proficiency Test

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 04, 2009 2 min read
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The California Department of Education’s press release about English-language learners’ scores on the state’s English-proficiency test reads about the same as the press releases on students’ scores on this test for the last several years, as I recall. The percentage of ELLs who score “proficient” in the language keeps rising, but a gap still exists between the scores and the proportion of students who are reclassified as fluent in English, and thus, no longer in need of special programs.

A sizable gap exists as well between the scores of ELLs and native speakers of English, though the press release doesn’t say if that gap has increased or decreased from last school year. Update: California Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat who is chair of the state’s Senate Education Committee, says in a May 1 press release that the gap has increased slightly over the last six years.

In the 2007-08 school year, 32.8 percent of English-language learners met the bar on the California English Language Development Test set by the state that says they are eligible for possible reclassification. But, in fact, school districts reclassified only 9.6 percent of ELLs that school year as fluent in the language.

California, by the way, recommends several criteria, including particular scores on the test, for reclassification, but gives districts the final word on reclassification decisions. The policy contrasts with a state such as Arizona, where English-language learners must be reclassified and must leave special programs if they score proficient on that state’s English-proficiency test.

The newly released scores from California for the 2008-09 school year show that 36.2 percent of ELLs met the test’s criteria for possible reclassification, up from 32.8 percent the previous school year. The reclassification rate for 2008-09 hasn’t yet been released.

(To score well enough to meet the state’s bar for possible reclassification, students must score “early advanced” or “advanced” on the CELDT, plus they must score “intermediate” or higher for each of the four domains of English tested: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.)

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell notes in the press release that the increase of the reclassification rate from 9.2 percent of ELLs in the 2006-07 school year to 9.6 percent in the 2007-08 school year is a “positive sign.” But he fails to note that the reclassification rate in the 2005-06 school year was also 9.6 percent. So the rate didn’t budge overall for three years.

For whatever reason, most educators at the school district level in California continue not to view the state’s cut-off point on the CELDT for possible reclassification as a high enough bar for deciding that students should leave ELL programs.

Anyone from California want to weigh in on why this is the case?

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