Curriculum-Based Measurement and the Evaluation of Reading Skills of Spanish-Speaking English Language Learners in Bilingual Education Classrooms

Article excerpt

Abstract. Eighty-three students enrolled in general education classrooms and 62 Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs) enrolled in bilingual education classrooms were assessed in reading English three times a year using curriculum-based measurement. Fluency in Spanish passages was also assessed for Spanish-speaking ELLs in the bilingual education program. Results showed that Spanish-speaking ELLs read less fluently on English passages than general education students across grades and across testing periods. When general education students reading in English and Spanish-speaking ELLs reading in Spanish were compared, general education students read more fluently in English than Spanish-speaking ELLs did in Spanish. In addition, general education students made more gains over time in reading English than Spanish-speaking ELLs reading in Spanish. These findings suggest that curriculum-based measurement can be a viable methodology for evaluating the rate of progress of Spanish-speaking ELLs in bilingual education programs. In addition, the study points to the need for more research to determine the expected rates of gain in reading among Spanish-speaking ELLs in both English and their native language.

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The number of students enrolled in public schools whose native language is other than English has increased dramatically over the past few years. It is estimated that the foreign-born population of the United States reached 31.1 million in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), a 57% increase over the figure reported in 1990. Children in families from Latin American countries (Latino or Hispanic) in particular are one of the fastest growing foreign-born groups in our schools. It is estimated that 78% of English language learners (ELLs) in Grades K-12 speak Spanish (Macias, 2000).

The dramatic increase of ELLs in U.S. schools has led to increasing interest in successful instructional approaches for ELLs. For many years, heated and political debates have been focused over what language (i.e., English vs. Spanish) should be used to meet the educational needs of ELLs. Although the ultimate goal of reading instruction for ELLs is reading English successfully, many of the models for instructing ELLs differ in the amount and duration of instruction that students receive in their primary and secondary language. At one end of the spectrum, English only approaches such as English as a second language, sheltered English, or immersion programs deem-phasize the student's native language (Osorio-O'Dea, 2001). At the other end of the spectrum, bilingual education approaches use the students' native language for both academic learning and English acquisition in all subjects (Osorio-O'Dea, 2001). As paradoxical as it may seem, bilingual education programs develop students' English-reading skills through the use of the student's native language. Support comes from research suggesting that languages develop interdependently, which means that the level of proficiency in one language has an effect on the level of proficiency in the other language (Cummins, 1991). Thus, proficiency in the native language is viewed as a valuable resource for learning English (Cummins, 1991).

Assessment of Spanish-Speaking ELLs

The most common way to assess the reading skills of Spanish-speaking students is through the use of published norm-referenced tests (Garcia & Pearson, 1994; Ochoa, Powell, & Robles-Pina, 1996). Unfortunately, published norm-referenced tests are not sensitive to differences within a person over time (Shinn & Bamonto, 1998). If a student's reading skills were to change as a result of an intervention or an instructional approach, published norm-referenced tests are unable to detect the short-term effects (i.e., 6-8 weeks) of the intervention. Thus, published norm-referenced tests are not designed to meet one of the most critical purposes of assessment--to inform instruction with the aim of improving students' outcomes. …