For Students With Limited English, Standardized Tests Miss the Point

Press Release

****NEWS RELEASE**** from the Language Policy Research Unit (LPRU) and the Education Policy Studies Laboratory (EPSL) at Arizona State University April 30, 2002 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: James Crawford, Independent Scholar [email protected] Professor Alex Molnar, Director Education Policy Studies Laboratory (480) 965-1886 [email protected] Find this document on the web at: FOR STUDENTS WITH LIMITED ENGLISH, STANDARDIZED TESTS MISS THE POINT TEMPE, Ariz.- English-only standardized tests don’t accurately reflect the educational achievement of students with limited English proficiency, a language policy expert writes in a new report released by the the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University. In the report published by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory’s Language Policy Research Unit, James Crawford, an independent writer and lecturer on language policy, and formerly Washington editor of Education Week, highlights the problems inherent in using “scientific” accountability measures such as high stakes tests to judge the academic progress of language minority students. Crawford is the author of several books on language policy, the most recent of which is At War With Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety (Multilingual Matters, 2000) The issue of bilingual education has received an increase in media attention in the last several years, particularly since the passing of California’s Proposition 227. Some administrators and policy analysts argue that English immersion programs offer greater benefit to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students by giving them the language skills necessary to enter the mainstream; others insist that LEP students fare better in bilingual education programs. Either way, LEP students generally achieve much lower scores on standardized tests than their English-fluent peers, and experts are divided on how to interpret and respond to those score differences. Crawford writes, “?certain tests, such as assessments of English proficiency or of academic skills in Spanish or Korean, may be quite useful in gauging the progress of LEP children. But testing their academic knowledge in English, often required these days in the name of accountability, cannot reliably serve that goal. Simply put, for students who have not mastered English, such tests are not very meaningful. Complaints about their lagging scores are therefore misplaced.” According to Crawford, the appropriate litmus test is their long-term success in the academic mainstream. However, such an attitude is not well received among taxpayers who want immediate answers about the effectivness of school programs. “From an educational perspective,” Crawford writes, “one thing is clear: the goals of quick accountability and rigorous science are on a collision course, with the potential to do serious harm.” Crawford cites the Stanford 9 test as an example of a standardized testing program whose results are commonly misrepresented by opponents of bilingual education. For example, Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire behind the California Proposition 227, says his campaign has been vindicated by English learners’ performance on the Stanford 9 achievement test. However, deeper investigation into testing practices revealed that the Stanford 9 scores for LEP and English-fluent students can be easily manipulated simply by redesignating the criteria for English fluency. This is one possible alternative explanation for the dramatic changes in Stanford 9 scores some California school districts have reported. Crawford challenges supporters of bilingual education to take a stronger initiative in making educational research findings accessible to the public, stating that, “policies on how to teach English language learners are increasingly based on what is politically, not pedagogically, effective.” The Language Policy Research Unit (LPRU), directed by Dr. Terrence Wiley, promotes research and policy analysis on the challenges and opportunities posed by global multiculturalism. LPRU activities are intended to inform public discussion and policymaking in state, national, and international contexts. Visit the LPRU website athttp://www.language- The Education Policy Studies Laboratory (EPSL) at Arizona State University offers high quality analyses of national education policy issues and provides an analytical resource for educators, journalists, and citizens. It includes the Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU), the Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA), the Education Policy Reports Project (EPRP), the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU), and the Language Policy Research Unit (LPRU). The EPSL is directed by ASU Professor Alex Molnar. Visit the EPSL website at

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