Tennessee Will Let ELLs Take Tests in ‘Simplified English’

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 18, 2009 1 min read
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This coming spring, Tennessee will give its state assessment to English-language learners for the first time in “simplified English,” according to a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education. The state is calling the alternative test form “English Linguistically Simplified Assessment” and it will be used for math, reading, science, and social studies. While the test items use rudimentary English, or in testing lingo, what is often called “plain English,” the content is on grade level.

The modified English includes a reliance on common words, the use of concrete words rather than abstract ones, and a reduction in the complexity of sentence structure, according to a presentation given by a state official. Some of the reading passages, however, may be the exact same as in the regular form of the test. Pearson is the contractor for development of the test.

A number of other states have alternative tests for ELLs, but it’s been a year since I asked the U.S. Department of Education for an update on this issue. Several states had to stop using alternative tests for ELLs, such as portfolios, because the U.S. Department of Education didn’t find them to be comparable with the states’ regular tests.

Two years ago, Illinois had to drop use of its plain-English test for math and reading with English-language learners because of issues with comparability.

So, it’s noteworthy than Tennessee is proceeding with a plain-English version.

Recently, the governing board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress held a public hearing on its proposals for better including ELLs in testing, and developing plain- English versions of NAEP was one of the proposals. People I heard testify at the hearing, such as a representative of the National Education Association, supported that idea.

Are any other states coming on board with plain-English versions of their content tests for ELLs?

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