Immigrant high school students learning English score better on tests
when given in their native language, even two years after the district
labeled them proficient in English, according to a Miami-Dade County schools
The study suggests that standardized tests, which are given in English,
do not accurately measure the knowledge of students who have spoken another
language for most of their lives. Those exams -- especially the Florida
Comprehensive Assessment Test -- can determine a student's advancement and
graduation, leading the study's author to contend that recent immigrants may
be at a serious disadvantage.
``These students have knowledge that they're not able to exhibit, said
Rodolfo Abella, the district's supervisor of evaluation and research, who
conducted the study of 2,025 Hispanic 4- and 10th-graders in Miami-Dade. All
of them were in English for Speakers of Other Languages classes or had
exited the program in the last two years.
Last year, there were 63,520 ESOL students districtwide, according to
Students in the research were given two math tests that cover similar
content but with different questions: the widely used Stanford 9 test in
English and its Spanish-language cousin, the Aprenda 2, both produced by
In fourth grade, students who had recently completed two years of ESOL
performed better on the English version than the Spanish one, scoring about
4 percent higher. But high school sophomores, who must pass the FCAT to
graduate, scored 6 percent lower on the English version.
Examined another way, 88 percent of the 10th-graders who completed ESOL
-- and were therefore classified as English-proficient -- scored higher on
the Spanish version of the test.
Limited English Proficiency students ''for the most part, are not able to
exhibit their mathematics skills on English-language achievement tests,
regardless of the number of years they receive ESOL instruction,'' the study
LIKELY TO GROW
The study said the gap would likely grow on more language-intensive exams
such as writing and reading.
Gov. Jeb Bush's office did not return calls seeking comment, and
Department of Education officials said they needed to review the report
before responding to it.
The study appears to be consistent with other research on bilingual
education, saidStanford University professor of education Amado Padilla.
``It probably takes more than a couple of years to develop a second
language in a high-proficient way to be successful and competitive
academically, said Padilla, who had not reviewed the Miami-Dade study.
Even students who become functional with English usually work more slowly
in their new language, Padilla said. That can be a double hurdle on timed
standardized tests such as the FCAT, which will be given over the next six
The success of fourth-graders who finished ESOL is consistent with a wide
range of research that suggests students learn new languages far more
effectively when they are younger. The subjects on a fourth-grade test are
also less abstract, Padilla said, and therefore easier to translate.
But even those students are not presumed to be entirely proficient in
English, despite the school system's label.
''Once the children are exited from their ESOL program, they're still on
a learning curve for the English language,'' said Deborah Stevens, principal
of Hialeah's Palm Springs Elementary, where 28 percent of the students are
classified as having limited English proficiency.
While students are in ESOL, their test scores do not count toward the
school's accountability grade from the state. After that two-year program,
however, they are automatically included.
''We know that after just two years of English instruction, they bomb
horribly on the FCAT,'' said Santiago Corrada, principal of Miami Edison
Senior High, which has a sizable Haitian population. Last year the school
received its second F in four years. He suggested students be eligible to
stay in ESOL classes for more than two years.
``We're going to deny high school students a diploma based on a language
barrier, and it's going to affect entire ethnic groups, he said.
The study, funded with a federal Department of Education grant, will be
unveiled Saturday before the National Association for Bilingual Education in
Download pdf study URL:
An Examination of the Validity of English Language Achievement Test
in a LEP Student Population
Rodolfo Abella, Joanne Urrutia
and Aleksandr Shneyderman
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
February 1, 2003
Length of Time receiving English Language Instruction. It is generally
accepted that language proficiency is a direct function of the extent of
time students receive English instruction. In previous years, educators and
policy makers have assumed that English language proficiency can be achieved
in two to three years if students are exposed to proper language
instruction. Nevertheless, research has brought this assumption into
question. It is now thought that true language proficiency takes longer to
achieve, as long as seven years, depending on whether oral proficiency or
academic proficiency is being considered (Hakuta, Goto-Butler & Witt, 2000,
Thompson & Collier, 1997).....
In summary, English language achievement tests are, for the most part, not a
valid measure of content area knowledge for secondary students who recently
exited ESOL and appear to discriminate most particularly against bright
students and generally against those who have strong home language skills.
At the 4 th grade level the English language achievement test seems to
validly assess the performance of most of the recently exited students. The
test seems to discriminate only against students with strong home language
skills who have not fully developed their English language skills.