Native Language Assessments for K-12 English Learners: Policy Considerations and State Practices

Julie Sugarman and Leslie Villegas
Date of Publication: 
June, 2020
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

Standardized tests play a central role in the U.S. education system, shaping how states hold schools accountable for ensuring that all students have equitable access to a quality education. Schools and districts sometimes also use testing data for high-stakes decisions about teacher pay and whether students can move on to the next grade. It is thus crucial that standardized assessments are able to accurately capture what students know and can do.

But for English Learner (EL) students, test scores may not fully reflect how much they have learned in a subject if they cannot demonstrate their knowledge in English. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages states to consider offering native language assessments as a test accommodation for ELs. Yet official guidance and research are limited on how to use such assessments effectively, and only 31 states and the District of Columbia use such tests. Depending on factors such as students’ English proficiency levels and the language(s) in which they receive instruction, these tests may be a good fit for some ELs but not others.

This policy brief explores key policy and practical questions for states considering implementing or expanding their use of native language assessments. It also provides an overview of the choices made by the jurisdictions that already use them—including the subjects and languages in which native language assessments are offered and how they were created. Finally, the brief offers recommendations for the federal government, states, and local actors that could help build understanding of when these tests work well and how to make them more widely available.

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Sugarman, J., & Villegas, L. (2020, June). Native Language Assessments for K-12 English Learners: Policy Considerations and State Practices. Migration Policy Institute.