Assessing Linguistically Diverse Students - National Council of Teachers of English
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Assessing Linguistically Diverse Students

From the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment


This post was written by NCTE member Bobbie Kabuto, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment. 


Linguistically diverse students are not immune from the ongoing federal and state-wide testing climate. In a recent blog by the chair of the NCTE Standing Committee on Assessment, Peggy O’Neill shared Key Takeaways from a Survey of NCTE State Policy Analysts.

At the time of the survey, NCTE state policy representatives indicated that linguistically diverse students are not being assessed in culturally and linguistically relevant ways. According to ESSA, students who are learning English are required to be tested yearly in English Language Arts. Survey responses showed, in summary:

  • State-wide testing of linguistically diverse students is designed to meet states’ accountability goals for monitoring English-language proficiency.
  • Commercial assessments are used for testing and students are provided with a one-time exemption if it is their first year in the United States. Permitting students to skip their first year of testing is permissible by federal policy because these scores are not counted towards a school’s ratings.
  • When tested, linguistically diverse students are given accommodations, like extended time, a reader on a computer-based test, oral translation of the test, word-to-word dictionary between English and their native language.

The dependence on high-stakes testing of linguistically diverse students is in opposition of what we have learned about educating this particular group. Federal and state-wide high-stakes testing ignores:

  1. The identities of linguistically diverse students. A one-size-fits-all-profile of a linguistically diverse learner does not exist. We cannot assume that all linguistically diverse students are foreign born or are equally proficient in speaking, listening, reading, and writing in their native languages and English. Trying to accommodate students’ developing English language proficiency with strategies, like providing an oral translation of the test, does not always address the diverse profiles of linguistically diverse students in our schools. Terms, like English Language Learner or English as a New Language (ENL), overlook how families support and define their children as bilingual students.
  1. The linguistic knowledge of diverse students. The focus on English-language proficiency forgets that students may be proficient in reading and writing in other languages. By allowing the use of other languages, educators can support linguistically diverse students by acknowledging the additional language resources that will not only keep them challenged in the classroom, but also allow them to participate in classroom activities. The work in translanguaging provides a way to conceptualize how linguistically diverse students can use multiple languages as resources in classrooms.
  1. The uses of multiple, formative assessments. Using multiple, formative assessments can provide lenses into linguistically diverse students as readers and writers. Encouraging students to use other languages as resources in a translanguaging context gives linguistically diverse students the opportunity to express what they know about reading and writing, rather than what they know about English. The reading and writing behaviors of students in English and other languages are less likely to be misinterpreted if educators use a variety of formative assessments in the classroom.

The NCTE position statement Expanding Opportunities: Academic Success for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students contends that assessments should take an asset view on learning and reflect the lived language experiences of linguistically diverse students.


NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment

CHAIR, Peggy O’Neill (Loyola University, Baltimore, MD)

Josh Flores (Birmingham, AL)

Bobbie Kabuto (Queens College, Flushing, NY)

Becky McCraw (Goucher Elementary School, Gaffney, SC)

Kathryn Mitchell Pierce (Saint Louis University, MO)

Elisa Waingort (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

Kathleen Blake Yancey (Florida State University, Tallahassee)