Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Assessment of Content and Language in Light of the New Standards: Challenges and Opportunities for English Language Learners

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Assessment of Content and Language in Light of the New Standards: Challenges and Opportunities for English Language Learners

Article excerpt

Current State of Education Standards

The current state is as follows: The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics has been adopted in various adaptations by most 46 states (Achieve, 2013). Two consortia of states-Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC - and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC - developing assessments aligned to these standards for implementation in Spring, 2015. In addition, the Next Generation Science Standards, based on the National Research Council framework for K-12 science (National Research Council, 2012), has been adopted by multiple states.

What is already clearly evident in the substance of the Common Core as well as the Next Generation Science Standards is the prominence of language-not just language as in parts of speech, grammar, and vocabulary, but also high levels of language embedded in the instructional actions expected in the new standards. It is the aspects of language that linguists would call pragmatics and systemic functional linguistics. They expect language to support the following sorts of academic expectations:

Students can, without significant scaffolding, comprehend and evaluate complex texts across a range of types and disciplines and they can construct effective arguments and convey intricate and multifaceted information1

Mathematically proficient students understand and use stated assumptions, definitions, and previously established results in constructing arguments. They make conjectures, and build a logical progression of statements to explore the truth of their conjectures2

This new angle on the language demands of the new standards has begun to be documented by the Understanding Language Initiative (ULI; available at and the papers widely disseminated with the primary audience being educators working on the content areas, who are coming to the realization that these content-embedded aspects of language are operational units of what has been traditionally and broadly termed "academic language."

The new standards, while clearly driving assessment through the federally funded consortia of states (PARCC and SBAC), have also begun to shape other parts of the system attempting to align to the standards, state and district policies regarding curriculum, professional supports, textbooks and materials, and teacher preparation. This author's observation in having engaged in various conversations with players and providers in these efforts to align the new standards systemically is that they vary and are all over the map. The variation is best characterized as piecemeal and unsystematic on one end, to strategic and thoughtful on the other. Piecemeal and unsystematic efforts will result in very little reform, whereas strategic and thoughtful efforts provide a chance. In turn, this variation is primarily attributable to system capacity to take on such a profound fundamental instructional shift that is called for by the new standards.

In addition to the content assessments based on the Common Core and the new science standards, states are currently required to develop a separate assessment of English Language Proficiency (ELP) that "corresponds" to the state content standards. English-language learners (ELL) are required by federal law to be identified, classified, and provided with additional appropriate services until their educational needs arising from their language minority status have been addressed, and they are reclassified as "English proficient" (ELP). In addition, the ELP assessments are used for Title III accountability purposes under the current No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2002). There is a strong enough constituency base for Title m assessments so that these provisions will remain in any reauthorization of ESEA. The author does not expect any changes in the federal mandate for identification and for special services, required under Lau v. …

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