Content Assessment in the Native Language.
For at least the past 15 years, education reform initiatives have emphasized the role of assessment in their endeavors. As a result, a wide variety of assessment programs have been initiated. As of 1994, forty-three states, following the example of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), had their own state assessment programs. These programs provide assessments of all students at particular grade levels in a variety of content areas.
The results of such programs are used for a variety of purposes. They can be utilized by elected and appointed state-level officials to monitor and evaluate the quality of education being provided by their respective states. At the state department of education level, results are often used to evaluate the quality of education provided by districts and to identify the districts and schools that are in need of improvement. District level results can also serve a similar function. Additionally, districts use test results to identify which students need special assistance to meet the expected academic standards. The process of using mandated tests to evaluate schools as well as identify students in need of remediation gives such tests considerable importance within the educational system.
However, not all students are able to participate in the assessment program. Typically, schools defer or exempt students from participating if they cannot speak, read, and write affordable paper in English. Consequently, the test results obtained by schools often give an incomplete and, sometimes, misleading picture of the quality of student achievement at the school. In schools where there are a large number of non-native English speaking students, the school may exclude all of those students from participating in the assessment program. Thus, the official reported results may have little relationship to the actual status of educational achievement in the school.
When students do not participate in a mandatory testing program, they lose the benefits that participation provides. As implied above, these benefits include an assessment of their educational attainment in the content areas and the provision of appropriate remediation to those students who need it. When students are not tested, they can easily be overlooked and forgotten by the educational system. This is mainly because the absence of academic information about these students grants the educational system a kind waiver of responsibility for their educational achievement.
Failure to include non-native English speaking students in the testing program can be especially critical if the students live in a state where a high school graduation test is administered. According to a recent national survey (Rivera et al., 1995), nineteen states require students to pass a test or a battery of tests in order to obtain their high school diplomas. In nearly all states, those students who have not yet acquired English (henceforth these students will be referred to as English language learners as suggested by Rivera & LaCelle-Peterson, 1994) are also required to pass the graduation test. However, if they are English deficient, these students are routinely deferred from taking this test until they become English proficient or are seniors in high school. As a result of the deferral, the English language learners lose the opportunity to practice taking this important test. In addition to this, these students lose the opportunity for diagnosis of their educational attainment, feedback about their progress, and the possibility of appropriate remediation.