Native Language Assessments for K-12 English Learners: Policy Considerations and State Practices

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Sugarman, Julie and Villegas, Leslie
Institutional Author
Migration Policy Institute
Resource Type
Acquisition Number
Published Date
08-18-2020 3:53 PM
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Each state has a school accountability system that, under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), identifies low-performing schools based on a combination of student assessment outcomes and other factors, such as graduation and attendance rates. The fact that ESSA makes it mandatory to include English learners (ELs) in annual standardized testing is prompting the education field to consider how to improve state assessments so that they are more likely to accurately reflect ELs' knowledge and skills in the content areas. This report examines the policies, practices, and assessment tools of states make native language assessments available to some ELs. As of Spring 2020, 31 states plus the District of Columbia offer native language assessments, most commonly in math or science but sometimes in reading/language arts and social studies as well. These are typically available in Spanish, which is the most prevalent home language among ELs in most states. However, Hawaii offers tests in Hawaiian, and three states (Michigan, New York, and Washington) offer tests in multiple non-English languages. Native language assessments vary in terms of several characteristics such as whether they are direct translations of English-language standardized tests and whether ELs can see only the native language version, or both the native language and the English version when taking the test. Additionally, some states limit which ELs can take these tests (for example, only students new to U.S. schools).
Federal Policy