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Testimony before the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and 
Secondary Education, Committee on Education and Labor, House of 
Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 9:30 a.m. EDT: 

Friday, March 23, 2007: 

No Child Left Behind Act: 

Education Assistance Could Help States Better Measure Progress of 
Students with Limited English Proficiency: 

Statement of Cornelia M. Ashby, Director: 
Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues: 

GAO-07-646T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-07-646T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on Early 
Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, Committee on Education 
and Labor, House of Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA) focused attention on the 
academic achievement of more than 5 million students with limited 
English proficiency. Obtaining valid test results for these students is 
challenging, given their language barriers. This testimony describes 
(1) the extent to which these students are meeting annual academic 
progress goals, (2) what states have done to ensure the validity of 
their academic assessments, (3) what states are doing to ensure the 
validity of their English language proficiency assessments, and (4) how 
the U.S. Department of Education (Education) is supporting states’ 
efforts to meet NCLBA’s assessment requirements for these students. 
This testimony is based on a July 2006 report (GAO-06-815). To collect 
the information for this report, we convened a group of experts and 
studied five states (California, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, 
and Texas). We also conducted a state survey and reviewed state and 
Education documents. 

What GAO Found: 

In nearly two-thirds of 48 states for which we obtained data, students 
with limited English proficiency did not meet state proficiency goals 
for language arts or mathematics in school year 2003-2004. Further, in 
most states, these students generally did not perform as well as other 
student groups on state mathematics tests for elementary students. 

Officials in our five study states reported taking steps to follow 
generally accepted test development procedures to ensure the validity 
and reliability of academic tests for these students. However, our 
group of experts expressed concerns about whether all states are 
assessing these students in a valid manner, noting that some states 
lack technical expertise. Further, Education’s completed peer reviews 
of assessments in 38 states found that 25 states did not provide 
adequate evidence of their validity or reliability. To improve the 
validity of these test results, most states offer accommodations, such 
as a bilingual dictionary. However, our experts reported that research 
is lacking on what accommodations are effective in mitigating language 
barriers. Several states used native language or alternate assessments 
for students with limited English proficiency, but these tests are 
costly to develop and are not appropriate for all students. 

Many states implemented new English language proficiency assessments in 
2006 to meet NCLBA requirements, and, as a result, complete information 
on their validity and reliability is not yet available. In 2006, 22 
states used tests developed by one of four state consortia. Officials 
in our study states reported taking steps to ensure the validity of 
these tests. However, a 2005 Education-funded review of 17 English 
language proficiency tests found insufficient documentation of their 
validity. 

Education has offered a variety of technical assistance to help states 
assess students with limited English proficiency. However, Education 
has issued little written guidance to states on developing English 
language proficiency tests. Officials in about one-third of the 33 
states we contacted told us they wanted more guidance about how to 
develop tests that meet NCLBA requirements. Education has offered 
states some flexibility in how they assess students with limited 
English proficiency, but officials in our study states told us that 
additional flexibility is needed to ensure that progress measures 
appropriately track the academic progress of these students. Since our 
report was published, Education has initiated a partnership with the 
states and other organizations to support the development of valid 
assessment options for students with limited English proficiency. 

What GAO Recommends: 

The GAO report recommended that Education (1) support research on 
accommodations, (2) identify and provide technical support states need 
to ensure the validity of academic assessments, (3) publish additional 
guidance on requirements for assessing English language proficiency, 
and (4) explore ways to provide additional flexibility for measuring 
annual progress for these students. Education generally agreed with our 
recommendations and has taken a number of steps to address them. 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-646T]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Cornelia Ashby at (202) 
512-7215 or ashbyc@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to present information from our July 2006 
report on the assessment requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act 
(NCLBA) as they pertain to students with limited English 
proficiency.[Footnote 1] An estimated 5 million children with limited 
English proficiency were enrolled in U.S. public schools during the 
2003-2004 school year, representing about 10 percent of the total 
school population. They speak over 400 languages, with almost 80 
percent of students with limited English proficiency speaking Spanish. 
These students often have language difficulties that interfere with 
their ability to succeed in school and, prior to NCLBA, were often 
excluded from statewide assessments. NCLBA's requirements have brought 
to the surface a number of challenges to assessing the academic 
performance of these students in a valid and reliable manner (that is, 
the assessment measures what it is designed to measure in a consistent 
manner). 

Congress passed NCLBA with the goal of increasing academic achievement 
and closing achievement gaps. NCLBA required states to demonstrate that 
all students have reached the "proficient" level on a state's language 
arts and mathematics assessments by 2014, and states must demonstrate 
"adequate yearly progress" toward this goal each year. In addition, 
students from groups that traditionally underperform, including 
students with limited English proficiency, must meet the same academic 
progress goals as other students. For the first time, NCLBA also 
required states to annually assess the English proficiency of these 
students and to demonstrate that they are making progress toward 
becoming proficient in English. 

My testimony today will focus on (1) the extent to which students with 
limited English proficiency are meeting adequate yearly progress goals, 
(2) what states have done to ensure that results from language arts and 
mathematics assessments are valid and reliable for students with 
limited English proficiency, (3) how states are assessing English 
proficiency and what they are doing to address the validity and 
reliability of these assessment results, and (4) how the Department of 
Education (Education) is supporting states' efforts to meet NCLBA's 
assessment requirements for these students. The information being 
presented today is from our July 2006 report. 

In summary, students with limited English proficiency did not meet 
state proficiency goals on language arts and mathematics tests in 
nearly two-thirds of 48 states for which we obtained data in the 2003- 
2004 school year. Officials in 5 states we studied reported taking 
steps to follow generally accepted test development procedures to 
ensure the validity and reliability of their academic tests for 
students with limited English proficiency. However, a group of experts 
we consulted expressed concerns about whether all states were assessing 
these students in a valid manner. These experts noted that some states 
lack the technical expertise needed to ensure the validity of tests for 
these students. As evidence of the challenges states face, Education's 
completed peer reviews of 38 states found that 25 did not provide 
adequate evidence on the validity or reliability of test results for 
these students. We also found that, as allowed under law, most states 
offer accommodations, such as a bilingual dictionary, to these students 
in order to improve the validity of language arts and mathematics test 
results. However, our experts reported that research is lacking on what 
accommodations are effective for these students. With respect to 
English language proficiency assessments, many states were implementing 
new tests in 2006 to meet NCLBA requirements, and as a result, complete 
information on their validity and reliability was not available at the 
time of our review. Education has offered a variety of technical 
assistance to help states assess students with limited English 
proficiency. However, Education has issued little written guidance to 
states on developing English language proficiency tests. Officials in 
about one-third of the 33 states we contacted told us they wanted more 
guidance about how to develop tests that meet NCLBA requirements. 

To help states assess students with limited English proficiency in a 
valid and reliable manner, our recent report included several 
recommendations. Education agreed with most of the report's 
recommendations and has taken a number of steps to address them. 
Specifically, Education has initiated a partnership with the states and 
other organizations to support the development of valid assessment 
options for students with limited English proficiency. 

To determine the extent to which students with limited English 
proficiency were meeting adequate yearly progress goals, we collected 
school year 2003-2004 state-level data for 48 states, including the 
District of Columbia. With regard to assessments, we studied the 
testing practices of 5 states in depth (California, Nebraska, New York, 
North Carolina, and Texas). We also directly contacted officials in 28 
states to discuss their English language proficiency assessments and 
Education's guidance regarding these assessments. Further, we convened 
a group of experts to discuss states' efforts to implement valid and 
reliable academic assessments for students with limited English 
proficiency. These experts had significant technical and research 
expertise in assessment issues, and some had conducted research focused 
on students with limited English proficiency. We also interviewed 
Education officials and reviewed relevant Education documents. Finally, 
we interviewed officials from major test development companies and 
state consortia that are developing English language proficiency 
assessments and used a short e-mail survey to obtain information from 
the 50 states and the District of Columbia on their use of native 
language assessments. We conducted the review in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Background: 

Students with limited English proficiency are a diverse and complex 
group. They speak many languages and have a tremendous range of 
educational needs and include refugees with little formal schooling and 
students who are literate in their native languages. Accurately 
assessing the academic knowledge of these students in English is 
challenging. If a student responds incorrectly to a test item, it may 
not be clear if the student did not know the answer or misunderstood 
the question because of language barriers. 

Title I of NCLBA requires states to administer tests in language arts 
and mathematics to all students in certain grades and to use these 
tests as the primary means of determining the annual performance of 
states, districts, and schools. These assessments must be aligned with 
the state's academic standards--that is, they must measure how well a 
student has demonstrated his or her knowledge of the academic content 
represented in these standards. States are to show that increasing 
percentages of students are reaching the proficient level on these 
state tests over time. NCLBA also requires that students with limited 
English proficiency receive reasonable accommodations and be assessed, 
to the extent practicable, in the language and form most likely to 
yield accurate data on their academic knowledge. In addition, for 
language arts, students with limited English proficiency who have been 
in U.S. schools for 3 years or more must generally be assessed in 
English. Finally, NCLBA also created a new requirement for states to 
annually assess the English language proficiency of students identified 
as having limited English proficiency. 

Accurately assessing the academic knowledge of students with limited 
English proficiency has become more critical because NCLBA designated 
specific groups of students for particular focus. These four groups are 
students who (1) are economically disadvantaged, (2) represent major 
racial and ethnic groups, (3) have disabilities, and (4) are limited in 
English proficiency. These groups are not mutually exclusive, so that 
the results for a student who is economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, 
and has limited English proficiency could be counted in three groups. 
States and school districts are required to measure the progress of all 
students in meeting academic proficiency goals, as well as to measure 
separately the progress of these designated groups. To make adequate 
yearly progress, each district and school must generally show that each 
of these groups met the state proficiency goal and that at least 95 
percent of students in each group participated in these 
assessments.[Footnote 2] Students with limited English proficiency are 
a unique group under NCLBA because once they attain English proficiency 
they are no longer counted as part this group, although Education has 
given states some flexibility in this area. 

Recognizing that language barriers can hinder the assessment of 
students who have been in the country for a short time, Education has 
provided some testing flexibility[Footnote 3]. Specifically, Education 
does not require students with limited English proficiency to 
participate in a state's language arts assessment during their first 
year in U.S. schools. In addition, while these students must take a 
state's mathematics assessment during their first year, a state may 
exclude their scores in determining whether it met its progress goals. 

Title III of NCLBA focuses specifically on students with limited 
English proficiency, with the purpose of ensuring that these students 
attain English proficiency and meet the same academic standards as 
other students. This title holds states and districts accountable for 
student progress in attaining English proficiency by requiring states 
to establish goals to demonstrate annual increases in both the number 
of students attaining English proficiency and the number making 
progress in learning English. States must establish English language 
proficiency standards that are aligned with a state's academic 
standards in order to ensure that students are acquiring the academic 
language they need to successfully participate in the classroom. 
Education also requires that a state's English language proficiency 
assessment be aligned to its English language proficiency standards. 
While NCLBA requires states to administer academic assessments to 
students in some grades, it requires states to administer English 
language proficiency assessments annually to all students with limited 
English proficiency, from kindergarten to grade 12. 

Students with Limited English Proficiency Performed below Progress 
Goals in 2004 in Almost Two-Thirds of States: 

In nearly two-thirds of the 48 states for which we obtained data, 
students with limited English proficiency did not meet state 
proficiency goals in the 2003-2004 school year. Students with limited 
English proficiency met goals in language arts and mathematics in 17 
states[Footnote 4]. In 31 states, these students missed the goals 
either for language arts or for both language arts and mathematics (see 
fig. 1). In 21 states, the percentage of proficient students in this 
group was below both the mathematics and the language arts proficiency 
goals. 

Figure 1: School Year 2003-2004 Comparison of Percentage of Students 
with Limited English Proficiency Who Achieved Proficient Scores in 
Language Arts and Mathematics with State-Established Progress Goals: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: State 2003-2004 report cards available on state Wed sites or 
data provided by state officials. 

Notes: We obtained data for 42 states from their state Web sites and 
contacted state officials in 6 states to obtain these data. Three 
states did not report data in a format that allowed us to determine 
whether the percentage of students with limited English proficiency met 
or exceeded the annual progress goals established by the state. 

When states reported proficiency data for different grades or groups of 
grades, we determined that students with limited English proficiency 
met a state's progress goals if the student group met all proficiency 
and participation goals for all grades reported. An Education official 
told us that a state could not make adequate yearly progress if it 
missed one of the progress goals at any grade level. 

All of the states on the map where the proficiency percentage for 
students with limited English proficiency met or exceeded the state's 
annual progress goal also met NCLBA's participation goals. 

We incorporated states' use of confidence intervals and NCLBA's safe 
harbor provision in determining whether the percentage of students with 
limited English proficiency achieving proficient scores met or exceeded 
a state's progress goals. If a state's published data did not 
explicitly include such information, we contacted state officials to 
ensure that the state did not meet its progress goals through the use 
of confidence intervals or through NCLBA's safe harbor provision. In 
the following 7 states, the percentage of students with limited English 
proficiency was below the state's annual progress goal for language 
arts or for both language arts and mathematics, but the student group 
met the state's requirements for progress through the safe harbor 
provision: Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode 
Island, and Utah. 

We reported 2004-2005 school year data for Oklahoma, New Mexico, and 
Utah because we could not obtain data for the 2003-2004 school year. 
Data from Iowa, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are for the 2002-2004 
school years. 

Rhode Island did not separately report participation rates for students 
with limited English proficiency. Instead, it reported that all 
students met the 95 percent participation goal. 

[End of figure] 

We found that the percentage of elementary school students with limited 
English proficiency achieving proficient scores on the state's 
mathematics assessment was lower than that for the total student 
population in 48 of 49 states that reported to Education in school year 
2003-2004. We also found that, in general, a lower percentage of 
students with limited English proficiency achieved proficient test 
scores than other selected student groups. All of the 49 states 
reported that these students achieved lower rates of proficiency than 
white students.[Footnote 5] The performance of limited English 
proficient students relative to the other student groups varied. In 37 
states, for example, economically disadvantaged students outperformed 
students with limited English proficiency, while students with 
disabilities outperformed these students in 14 states. 

Selected States Considered Language Issues when Developing Academic 
Assessments, but Validity and Reliability Concerns Remain: 

Officials in the 5 states we studied reported that they have taken 
steps to address challenges associated with academic assessments of 
students with limited English proficiency. However, Education's peer 
reviews of 38 states found a number of concerns in assessing these 
students. Our group of experts indicated that states are generally not 
taking the appropriate set of comprehensive steps to create valid and 
reliable assessments for students with limited English proficiency. To 
increase validity and reliability, most states offered accommodations 
to students, such as providing extra time to complete the test and 
offering native language assessments. However, offering accommodations 
may or may not improve the validity of test results, as research in 
this area is lacking. 

States Reported Efforts to Improve Validity of Assessment Results for 
Students with Limited English Proficiency: 

Officials in 5 states we studied reported taking some steps to address 
challenges associated with assessing students with limited English 
proficiency. Officials in 4 of these states reported following 
generally accepted test development procedures, while a Nebraska 
official reported that the state expects districts to follow such 
procedures. 

Officials in California, New York, North Carolina, and Texas told us 
that they try to implement the principles of universal design, which 
support making assessments accessible to the widest possible range of 
students. This is done by ensuring that instructions, forms, and 
questions are clear and not more linguistically complex than necessary. 
In addition, officials in some states reported assembling committees to 
review test items for bias. For example, when developing mathematics 
items, these states try to make language as clear as possible to ensure 
that the item is measuring primarily mathematical concepts and to 
minimize the extent to which it is measuring language proficiency. A 
mathematics word problem involving subtraction, for example, might 
refer to fish rather than barracuda. Officials in 3 of our study states 
told us they also used a statistical approach to evaluate test items 
for bias related to students with limited English proficiency. 

Both Education's Peer Reviews and Our Group of Experts Raised Concerns 
Regarding State Efforts to Ensure Valid and Reliable Assessment 
Results: 

Education's completed NCLBA peer reviews of 38 states[Footnote 6] found 
that 25 did not provide sufficient evidence on the validity or 
reliability of results for students with limited English proficiency. 
For example, in Idaho, peer reviewers commented that the state did not 
report reliability data for students with limited English proficiency. 
As of March 2007, 18 states have had their assessment systems fully 
approved by Education.[Footnote 7] 

Our group of experts indicated that states are generally not taking the 
appropriate set of comprehensive steps to create valid and reliable 
assessments for these students and identified essential steps that 
should be taken. These experts noted that no state has implemented an 
assessment program for students with limited English proficiency that 
is consistent with technical standards. They noted that students with 
limited English proficiency are not defined consistently within and 
across states, which is a crucial first step to ensuring reliability. 
If the language proficiency levels of these students are classified 
inconsistently, an assessment may produce results that appear 
inconsistent because of the variable classifications rather than actual 
differences in skills. Further, it appears that many states do not 
conduct separate analyses for different groups of limited English 
proficient students. Our group of experts indicated that the 
reliability of a test may be different for heterogeneous groups of 
students, such as students who are literate in their native language 
and those who are not. Further, these experts noted that states are not 
always explicit about whether an assessment is attempting to measure 
skills only (such as mathematics) or mathematics skills as expressed in 
English. According to the group, a fundamental issue affecting the 
validity of a test is the definition of what is being measured. 

The expert group emphasized that determining the validity and 
reliability of academic assessments for students with limited English 
proficiency is complicated and requires a comprehensive collection of 
evidence rather than a single analysis. In addition, the appropriate 
combination of analyses will vary from state to state, depending on the 
characteristics of the student population and the type of assessment. 
The group indicated that states are not universally using all the 
appropriate analyses to evaluate the validity and reliability of test 
results for students with limited English proficiency. These experts 
indicated that some states may need assistance to conduct appropriate 
analyses. Finally, they indicated that reducing language complexity is 
essential to developing valid assessments for these students, but 
expressed concern that some states and test developers do not have a 
strong understanding of universal design principles or how to use them 
to develop assessments that eliminate language barriers to measuring 
specific skills. 

Accommodations Can Increase Validity of Assessment Results, but 
Research on Appropriate Use Is Limited: 

The majority of states offered some accommodations to try to increase 
the validity and reliability of assessment results for students with 
limited English proficiency. These accommodations are intended to 
permit students to demonstrate their academic knowledge, despite 
limited language ability. Our review of state Web sites found 
documentation on accommodations for 42 states. The number of 
accommodations offered varied considerably among states. The most 
common accommodations were allowing the use of a bilingual dictionary 
and reading test items aloud in English (see table 1). Some states also 
administered assessments to small groups of students or individuals, 
while others gave students extra time to complete a test. 

Table 1: Most Frequently Cited Accommodations in 42 States: 

Accommodation: Bilingual dictionary; 
Number of states: 32. 

Accommodation: Reading items aloud in English; 
Number of states: 32. 

Accommodation: Small group administration; 
Number of states: 29. 

Accommodation: Extra time; 
Number of states: 27. 

Accommodation: Individual administration; 
Number of states: 27. 

Accommodation: Separate location; 
Number of states: 25. 

Accommodation: Extra breaks; 
Number of states: 25. 

Accommodation: Directions in student's native language; 
Number of states: 24. 

Source: GAO review of state documentation. 

[End of table] 

According to our expert group and our review of literature, research is 
lacking on what specific accommodations are appropriate for students 
with limited English proficiency, as well as their effectiveness in 
improving the validity of assessment results. A 2004 review of state 
policies found that few studies focus on accommodations intended to 
address the linguistic needs of students with limited English 
proficiency or on how accommodations affect the performance of students 
with limited English proficiency.[Footnote 8] In contrast, 
significantly more research has been conducted on accommodations for 
students with disabilities, much of it funded by Education. Because of 
this research disparity, our group of experts reported that some states 
offer accommodations to students with limited English proficiency based 
on those they offer to students with disabilities, without determining 
their appropriateness for individual students. They noted the 
importance of considering individual student characteristics to ensure 
that an accommodation appropriately addresses the needs of the student. 

Native Language and Alternate Assessments May Improve the Validity of 
Results but Are Challenging to Implement: 

In our survey, 16 states reported that they offered statewide native 
language assessments in language arts or mathematics in some grades for 
certain students with limited English proficiency in the 2004-2005 
school year. For example, New York translated its statewide mathematics 
assessments into Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Haitian-Creole. 
In addition, 3 states were developing or planning to develop a native 
language assessment. 

Our group of experts told us that this type of assessment is difficult 
and costly to develop. Development of a valid native language 
assessment involves more than a simple translation of the original 
test. In most situations, a process of test development and validation 
similar to that of the nontranslated test is recommended. In addition, 
the administration of native language assessments may not be 
practicable, for example, when only a small percentage of limited 
English proficient students in the state speak a particular language or 
when a state's student population has many languages. Members of our 
expert group told us that native language assessments are generally an 
effective accommodation only for students in specific circumstances, 
such as students who are instructed in their native language or are 
literate in their native language. 

Thirteen states offered statewide alternate assessments (such as 
reviewing a student's classroom work portfolio) in 2005 for certain 
students with limited English proficiency, as of March 2006. Our expert 
group noted that alternate assessments are difficult and expensive to 
develop, and may not be feasible because of the amount of time required 
for such an assessment. Members of the group also expressed concern 
about the extent to which these assessments are objective and 
comparable and can be aggregated with regular assessments. 

Most States Implemented New English Language Proficiency Assessments 
but Faced Challenges Establishing Their Validity: 

Many states implemented new English language proficiency assessments 
for the 2005-2006 school year to meet Education's requirement for 
states to administer English language proficiency tests that meet NCLBA 
requirements by the spring of 2006.[Footnote 9] These assessments must 
allow states to track student progress in learning English. 
Additionally, Education requires that these assessments be aligned to a 
state's English language proficiency standards. Education officials 
said that because many states did not have tests that met NCLBA 
requirements, the agency funded four state consortia to develop new 
assessments that were to be aligned with state standards and measure 
student progress. 

In the 2005-2006 school year, 22 states used assessments or test items 
developed by one of four state consortia, making this the most common 
approach taken by states. Eight states worked with test developers to 
augment off-the-shelf English language proficiency assessments to 
incorporate state standards. Officials in 14 states indicated that they 
are administering off-the-shelf assessments. Seven states, including 
Texas, Minnesota, and Kansas, created their own English language 
proficiency assessments. Officials in these states said they typically 
worked with a test developer or research organization to create the 
assessments. 

Officials in our study states and test developers we interviewed 
reported that they commonly apply generally accepted test development 
procedures to develop their assessments, but some are still in the 
process of documenting their validity and reliability. A 2005 review of 
the documentation of 17 English proficiency assessments used by 33 
states found that the evidence on validity and reliability was 
generally insufficient.[Footnote 10] The study, which was funded by 
Education, noted that none of the assessments contained "sufficient 
technical evidence to support the high-stakes accountability 
information and conclusions of student readiness they are meant to 
provide." 

Education Has Provided Assistance, but States Reported Need for 
Additional Guidance and Flexibility: 

Education has offered states a variety of technical assistance to help 
them appropriately assess students with limited English proficiency, 
such as providing training and expert reviews of their assessment 
systems. However, Education has issued little written guidance on how 
states are expected to assess and track the English proficiency of 
these students, leaving state officials unclear about Education's 
expectations. While Education has offered states some flexibility in 
how they incorporate these students into their accountability systems, 
many of the state and district officials we interviewed indicated that 
additional flexibility is needed to ensure that academic progress of 
these students is accurately measured. 

Education Has Provided a Variety of Support on Assessment Issues but 
Little Written Guidance on Assessing Students with Limited English 
Proficiency: 

Education offers support in a variety of ways to help states meet 
NCLBA's assessment requirements for students with limited English 
proficiency. The department's primary technical assistance efforts have 
included the following: 

* Title I peer reviews of states' academic standards and assessment 
systems: During these reviews, experts review evidence provided by the 
state about the validity and reliability of these assessments. 
Education shares information from the peer review to help states 
address issues identified during the review. 

* Title III monitoring visits: Education began conducting site visits 
to review state compliance with Title III requirements in 2005. As part 
of these visits, the department reviews the state's progress in 
developing English language proficiency assessments that meet NCLBA 
requirements. 

* Comprehensive centers: Education has contracted with 16 regional 
comprehensive centers to build state capacity to help districts that 
are not meeting their adequate yearly progress goals. At least 3 of 
these centers plan to assist individual states in developing 
appropriate goals for student progress in learning English. In 2005, 
Education also funded an assessment and accountability comprehensive 
center, which provides technical assistance related to the assessment 
of students, including those with limited English proficiency. 

* Ongoing technical assistance for English language proficiency 
assessments: Education has provided information and ongoing technical 
assistance to states using a variety of tools and has focused 
specifically on the development of the English language proficiency 
standards and assessments required by NCLBA. 

While providing this technical assistance, Education has issued little 
written guidance on developing English language proficiency assessments 
that meet NCLBA's requirements and on tracking the progress of students 
in acquiring English. Education issued some limited nonregulatory 
guidance on NCLBA's basic requirements for English language proficiency 
standards and assessments in February 2003. 

However, officials in about one-third of the 33 states we contacted 
expressed uncertainty about implementing these requirements. They told 
us that they would like more specific guidance from Education to help 
them develop tests that meet NCLBA requirements, generally focusing on 
two issues. First, some officials said they were unsure about how to 
align English language proficiency standards with content standards for 
language arts, mathematics, and science, as required by NCLBA. Second, 
some officials reported that they did not know how to use the different 
scores from their old and new English language proficiency assessments 
to track student progress. Without guidance and specific examples on 
both of these issues, some of these officials were concerned that they 
will spend time and resources developing an assessment that may not 
meet Education's requirements. Education officials told us that they 
were currently developing additional nonregulatory guidance on these 
issues, but it had not yet been finalized. 

Education Has Offered Different Accountability Options for Students 
with Limited English Proficiency, but State Officials Reported 
Additional Flexibility Is Needed: 

Education has offered states several flexibilities in tracking academic 
progress goals for students with limited English proficiency to support 
their efforts to develop appropriate accountability systems for these 
students. For example, students who have been in U.S. schools for less 
than a year do not have to meet the same testing requirements as other 
students. Another flexibility recognizes that limited English 
proficiency is a more transient quality than being of a particular 
race. Students who achieve English proficiency leave the group at the 
point when they demonstrate their academic knowledge in English, while 
new students with lower English proficiency are constantly entering the 
group (see fig. 2). Given the group's continually changing composition, 
meeting progress goals may be more difficult than doing so for other 
student groups, especially in districts serving large numbers of these 
students. Consequently, Education allowed states to include, for up to 
2 years, the scores of students who were formerly classified as limited 
English proficient when determining whether a state met its progress 
goals for students with limited English proficiency. 

Figure 2: Movement of Students In and Out of Limited English Proficient 
Student Group and Other Student Groups: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis and Art Explosion images. 

[End of figure] 

Several state and local officials in our study states told us that 
additional flexibility would be helpful to ensure that the annual 
progress measures provide meaningful information about the performance 
of students with limited English proficiency. Officials in 4 of the 
states we studied suggested that certain students with limited English 
proficiency should be exempt from testing or have their test results 
excluded for longer periods than is currently allowed. Several 
officials voiced concern that some of these students have such poor 
English skills or so little previous school experience that assessment 
results do not provide any meaningful information. Instead, some of 
these officials stated that students with limited English proficiency 
should not be included in academic assessments until they demonstrate 
appropriate English. However, the National Council of La Raza, a 
Hispanic advocacy organization, has voiced concern that excluding too 
many students from a state's annual progress measures will allow some 
states and districts to overlook the needs of these students. 

With respect to including the scores of students previously classified 
as limited English proficient for up to 2 years, officials in 2 of our 
5 study states, as well as one member of our expert group, thought it 
would be more appropriate for these students to be counted in the 
limited English proficient group throughout their school careers--but 
only for accountability purposes. They pointed out that by keeping 
students formerly classified as limited English proficient in the 
group, districts that work well with these students would see increases 
in the percentage who score at the proficient level in language arts 
and mathematics. An Education official explained that the agency does 
not want to label these students as limited English proficient any 
longer than necessary. Education officials also noted that including 
all students who were formerly limited English proficient would inflate 
the achievement measures for this group. 

District officials in 4 states argued that tracking the progress of 
individual students in this group is a better measure of how well these 
students are progressing academically. Officials in one district 
pointed to a high school with a large percentage of students with 
limited English proficiency that had made tremendous progress with 
these students, doubling the percentage of students achieving academic 
proficiency. The school missed the annual progress target for this 
group by a few percentage points, but school officials said that the 
school would be considered successful if it was measured by how much 
individual students had improved. In response to educators and 
policymakers who believe such an approach should be used for all 
students, Education initiated a pilot project in November 2005, 
allowing a limited number of states to incorporate measures of student 
progress over time in determining whether districts and schools met 
their annual progress goals.[Footnote 11] 

Prior Recommendations and Agency Response: 

We made several recommendations to Education in our July 2006 report. 
Specifically, we recommended that Education support additional research 
on appropriate accommodations for these students and disseminate 
information on research-based accommodations to states. We also 
recommended that Education determine what additional technical 
assistance states need to implement valid and reliable academic 
assessments for these students and provide such assistance. Further, we 
recommended that Education publish additional guidance with more 
specific information on the requirements for assessing English language 
proficiency and tracking student progress in learning English. Finally, 
we recommended that Education explore ways to provide states with 
additional flexibility in terms of holding states accountable for 
students with limited English proficiency. 

Education agreed with our first three recommendations and has taken a 
number of steps to address them. In recognition of the challenges 
associated with assessing students with limited English proficiency and 
in response to GAO's report, Education initiated the LEP (Limited 
English Proficient) Partnership in July 2006. Under the partnership, 
Education has pledged to provide technical assistance and support to 
states in the development of assessment options for states to use in 
addressing the needs of their diverse student populations. Education's 
partners in this effort include the National Council of LaRaza, Mexican 
American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Council of Chief State 
School Officers, Comprehensive Center on Assessment and Accountability, 
and the National Center on English Language Acquisition. All states 
have been invited to participate in this effort. The partnership held 
its first meeting in August 2006. In October 2006, officials from all 
the states came together to discuss areas for which they need 
additional technical assistance. As a result of these meetings, 
Education is supporting a variety of technical assistance projects, 
including the development of a framework on English language 
proficiency standards and assessments, the development of guides for 
developing native language and simplified assessments, and the 
development of a handbook on appropriate accommodations for students 
with limited English proficiency. Education officials told us that they 
are planning the next partnership meeting for the summer of 2007 and 
expect to have several of these resources available at that time. 

Education did not explicitly agree or disagree with our recommendation 
to explore additional options for state flexibility. Instead, the 
agency commented that it has explored and already provided various 
types of flexibility regarding the inclusion of students with limited 
English proficiency in accountability systems. However, in January 
2007, Education issued a blueprint for strengthening NCLBA, which calls 
for greater use of growth models and the recognition within state 
accountability systems of schools that make significant progress in 
moving students toward English proficiency. 

Mr. Chairman, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy to 
respond to any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may 
have. 

GAO Contacts: 

For further information regarding this testimony, please contact me at 
(202) 512-7215. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony 
include Harriet Ganson, Bryon Gordon, Shannon Groff, Krista Loose, 
Michelle St. Pierre, Sheranda Campbell, and Nagla'a El Hodiri. 

[End of section] 

Related GAO Products: 

No Child Left Behind Act: Education's Data Improvement Efforts Could 
Strengthen the Basis for Distributing Title III Funds. GAO-07-140. 
Washington, D.C.: December 7, 2006. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Education Actions Needed to Improve Local 
Implementation and State Evaluation of Supplemental Educational 
Services. GAO-06-758. Washington, D.C.: August 4, 2006. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Assistance from Education Could Help States 
Better Measure Progress of Students with Limited English Proficiency. 
GAO-06-815. Washington, D.C.: July 26, 2006. 

No Child Left Behind Act: States Face Challenges Measuring Academic 
Growth That Education's Initiatives May Help Address. GAO-06-661. 
Washington, D.C.: July 17, 2006. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Improved Accessibility to Education's 
Information Could Help States Further Implement Teacher Qualification 
Requirements. GAO-06-25. Washington, D.C.: November 21, 2005. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Education Could Do More to Help States Better 
Define Graduation Rates and Improve Knowledge about Intervention 
Strategies. GAO-05-879. Washington, D.C.: September 20, 2005. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Most Students with Disabilities Participated 
in Statewide Assessments, but Inclusion Options Could Be Improved. GAO- 
05-618. Washington, D.C.: July 20, 2005. 

Head Start: Further Development Could Allow Results of New Test to Be 
Used for Decision Making. GAO-05-343. Washington, D.C.: May 17, 2005. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Education Needs to Provide Additional 
Technical Assistance and Conduct Implementation Studies for School 
Choice Provision. GAO-05-7. Washington, D.C.: December 10, 2004. 

No Child Left Behind Act: Improvements Needed in Education's Process 
for Tracking States' Implementation of Key Provisions. GAO-04-734. 
Washington, D.C.: September 30, 2004. 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] GAO, No Child Left Behind Act: Assistance from Education Could Help 
States Better Measure Progress of Students with Limited English 
Proficiency, GAO-06-815 (Washington, D.C.: July 26, 2006). 

[2] To be deemed as having made adequate yearly progress for a given 
year, each district and school must show that the requisite percentage 
of each designated student group, as well as the student population as 
a whole, met the state proficiency goal. Further, schools must also 
demonstrate that they have met state targets on other academic 
indicators, such as graduation rates or attendance. Alternatively, a 
district or school can make adequate yearly progress through the "safe 
harbor" provision if the percentage of students in a group considered 
not proficient decreased by at least 10 percent from the preceding year 
and the group made progress on one of the state's other academic 
indicators. States also use statistical procedures, such as confidence 
intervals, to improve the reliability of the results used to determine 
adequate yearly progress. 

[3] On September 13, 2006, Education issued a final regulation on this 
flexibility. 71 Fed. Reg. 54188 (Sept. 13, 2006). 

[4] In 7 of the 17 states, students with limited English proficiency 
met a state's adequate yearly progress goals through NCLBA's safe 
harbor provision--that is, by decreasing the percentage of students 
scoring nonproficient by 10 percent or more and showing progress on 
another academic indicator. 

[5] Student groups are not mutually exclusive, with each of the ethnic 
and racial categories probably including some number of students with 
limited English proficiency. For example, the results for a student who 
is both white and limited English proficient would be included in both 
groups. 

[6] As of July 2006, Education had conducted peer reviews of 50 states 
and the District of Columbia. However, detailed peer review notes were 
available from only 38 states at the time of our review. 

[7] Education's approval is pending for 29 states, while approval is 
expected for an additional 3 states. Mississippi has received a waiver 
from peer review approval for 1 year due to Hurricane Katrina. 

[8] Charlene Rivera and Eric Collum. An Analysis of State Assessment 
Policies Addressing the Accommodation of English Language Learners. The 
George Washington University Center for Equity and Excellence in 
Education, Arlington, Virginia: (January 2004). 

[9] Education officials told us that the agency has approved an 
extension of this deadline for 1 state and is currently considering 
extension requests from 2 other states. 

[10] Stanley Rabinowitz and Edynn Sato, "Evidence-Based Plan: Technical 
Adequacy of Assessments for Alternate Student Populations: A Technical 
Review of High-Stakes Assessments for English Language Learners," 
WestEd (December 2005). 

[11] See GAO, No Child Left Behind Act: States Face Challenges 
Measuring Academic Growth That Education's Initiatives May Help 
Address, GAO-06-661 (Washington, D.C.: July 17, 2006), for further 
information on Education's pilot project. 

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