Educators Decry New NCLB Rules for Testing ELL Students

K-12 Testing
Disregarding educators' appeals for more flexibility in testing English language learners (ELLs) for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released final regulations in September requiring students to take standardized tests in English and have their scores count for NCLB after just 12 months of attending schools in the U.S.


"We're going to stand strong on accountability," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said when the regulations were announced. "We're not going to provide loopholes."


The rules, which took effect October 13, require ELLs to take state math tests the first time they are administered after they enroll in a U.S. school, but scores on the exams do not have to be included in adequate yearly progress (AYP) calculations until students have been in the U.S. for 12 months. ELLs are exempt from taking the first administration of English exams after their arrival but must take the exam during their second year in school.


Educators who work with ELL students reacted with shock, saying it is unreasonable and destructive to require students to take tests so soon. Despite receiving ample public comment seeking a longer time before ELL students must be tested and have their scores count toward AYP, the DE's final regulations were very similar to those they originally put out for comment, which would have required testing after 10 months.


"It's catastrophic for the self-esteem of a child who has to sit and endure a test like this," said Eileen Santiago, principal of Thomas A. Edison Community School in Port Chester, NY.


Alex Poole, director of the program for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Western Kentucky University, described the realities of teaching ELL students in many rural districts. "Briefly, we all know that there is no evidence that even a minority of ELLs can become proficient in academic English in a year," Poole said. "But something more concrete to consider is this: In many parts of rural America, we have ELLs in school districts that have zero experience with such students, have a hard time developing programs, and have an even harder time getting teachers. However, in one year, they may go from having no ELLs to 50 or more… Holding these students and their teachers 'accountable' is terribly unfair, highly stressful for all involved, and scientifically unjustifiable."


One group that advocates for ELLs, however, was supportive of the rules. Melissa Lazarín, senior policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, said her group supports holding the line at one year, on the theory that it will force improvements in assessments for these students.


Meanwhile, the DOE is working with a group of 24 states to rectify a lack of acceptable math and reading tests for students with limited English proficiency. Eighteen of the states were chosen because their testing systems for LEP students did not meet NCLB standards, according to the Department. The other six states were invited to help because their testing systems were found acceptable.