Sounds like Success: A Framework for Equitable Assessment: How to Revise Written Assessments for English Language Learners

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Approximately 13 million school-age students in the United States do not speak English as their primary language (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics 2005). Thus, there is a high demand for developing fair, thought-provoking assessments for English language learners (ELL). Unfortunately, such assessments are rare on standardized tests, which take years to develop, let alone classroom assessments. More importantly, many secondary science teachers are not prepared to teach or assess ELLs.

Teachers have many dilemmas when it comes to assessing a classroom of diverse students. Teachers need to find out what students really know while being fair to all students. They also need to learn how to alter assessments without watering down content. These challenges can be addressed by following five principles for equitable assessment. In this article, we describe the "McCes, Sounds Like Success" equity framework. We provide practical examples along with commentary from secondary preservice teachers who participated in a course through which they learned about and applied the framework.

The McCes framework

The McCes, Sounds Like Success equity framework, for written classroom assessments, is comprised of the five research-based principles listed in Figure 1 (Siegel 2007). The framework states that classroom assessments for ELLs should be comprehensible, challenging, and supportive.

As shown in Figure 1, the first principle pertains to matching learning and instructional goals. In particular, when revising an assessment for ELLs, the new version should match the conceptual or scientific goals, as well as the language demands of the original assessment. For instance, if students are asked to develop an argument in the original assessment, they should also be asked to develop an argument on the revised version. Additionally, the language of the assessment should be consistent with instruction (CRESST 2001): if a particular term is used in class, such as trial, that term should also be used on the assessment, rather than a synonym such as experiment.

The second principle (Figure 1) is to ensure that classroom assessment is both linguistically and culturally comprehensible. This means that in terms of language, written assessments should be readable, not produce extra reading time for ELLs compared to native English speakers, and fit within the norms associated with the native culture (Abedi et al. 2000; CRESST 2001). To further improve student comprehension, sentences can be shortened, ideas can be bulleted to reduce reading time, and pictures can be added in place of words. Figure 2 shows modifications of one assessment that are appropriate for advanced, seventh-grade ELL students (Siegel 2007).

After learning about equitable assessment and how to use the McCES framework, preservice teachers had ideas about how to design assessments that are more equitable for ELLs as illustrated in the following quotes:

* "Now I understand that including pictures (e.g., pictorial representations of instructions) could actually assist my ELL students within a classroom."

* "I can make the explanations shorter or bulleted and can also use graphic organizers to help [ELL students] with the test. I also have to make sure, however, that none of the content of the assessment is being lost and that am still assessing them fairly."

In terms of culture, research has shown that a student's personal background and experience is important in how he or she interprets science assessments (Solano-Flores and Nelson-Barber 2001). For example, an economically underprivileged student who has never left New York City may not have seen a golf course and may therefore be at a disadvantage when completing a question that uses a golf course as the context for a physics problem. A student taught with conventional sky maps may likewise be at a disadvantage when engaging in an assessment drawn by a Yup'ik (native of western Alaska or Siberia) elder. …

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