White House Official Stresses Need for Native-Language Tests

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 27, 2011 2 min read
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The Obama administration wants to see school districts move forward in making native-language assessments available for English-language learners, a White House official said yesterday, prompted by comments from a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Roberto Rodriguez, a White House adviser on education issues, was prompted to speak about ELL policy issues when Patricia Gándara, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, complained to him that federal policy has had a role in “killing off our bilingual and dual-language programs because we don’t have appropriate assessments.”

Gándara expressed concern as well that the federal government has funded two separate competitions for the creation of assessments pegged to the states’ common-core academic standards, one for content tests for all students and another separate one for English-language-proficiency tests for ELLs. The developers of each of those kinds of tests “are on different timelines and not even talking with each other,” she contended.

Rodriguez answered: “I agree that we backslipped in respect to high-quality bilingual education for our kids.”

He said the Obama administration wants to see that the new generation of tests are valid and reliable for ELLs. “It’s something we will watch closely,” he said. And he added that the administration would like to see native-language tests become available.

Rodriquez told the commission: “The quality of instruction for ELLs needs to be an issue this commission wrestles with.”

Talk about the instruction of Latino students with language barriers, however, didn’t play a big role in the discussions of the commissioners during the first day of their first meeting.

But the commissioners did talk a lot about how the Spanish-language media can play an important role in helping Latino parents to learn how they can support their children to go to college and earn degrees. One of the commissioners is Cesar Conde, the president of Univision Networks at Univision Communications, Inc., which provides TV and radio programming in Spanish in the United States.

Conde described to the panel a two-year-old campaign, called Es El Momento, underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which also helps fund the publisher of Education Week), that aims to build awareness among Latinos of the benefits of a college education. “Most of our community was not aware of the real economic impact of not graduating from high school and not graduating from college,” Conde said.

Univision’s web site posts materials for the campaign in English and Spanish.

Through the effort, Univision has hosted grassroots gatherings to promote the value of high education attainment in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. The campaign also involves public service announcements broadcast by TV, radio, and social media, and programming that features education experts talking about issues affecting the success of Latinos in school.

An Es El Momento (which translates as “It’s the moment”) education awareness event at California State University in Los Angeles drew 20,000 people, said Eduardo Padrón, the president of Miami Dade College and the chairman of the commission. “That’s a testimony to the fact that Latino families really care,” he said.

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