No Child Left Behind Act:

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

GAO-06-815: Published: Jul 26, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2006.

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For the Spanish translation of the highlights page for this document, see GAO-06-1111. Ley para que ningun nino se quede atras: La ayuda del Departamento de Educacion puede contribuir a que los Estados midan mejor el progreso de los alumnos que no dominan bien el ingles. GAO-06-1111, Julio de 2006. 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 report 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. To collect this information, 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.

For the Spanish translation of the highlights page for this document, see GAO-06-1111. Ley para que ningun nino se quede atras: La ayuda del Departamento de Educacion puede contribuir a que los Estados midan mejor el progreso de los alumnos que no dominan bien el ingles. GAO-06-1111, Julio de 2006. In the 2003-2004 school year, state data showed that the percentage of students with limited English proficiency scoring proficient on a state's language arts and mathematics tests was lower than the state's annual progress goals in nearly two-thirds of the 48 states for which we obtained data. Further, our review of data 49 states submitted to Education showed that in most states, these students generally did not perform as well as other student groups on state mathematics tests. Factors other than student knowledge, such as how a state establishes its annual progress goals, can influence whether states meet their goals. For their academic assessments, officials in our five study states reported taking steps to follow generally accepted test development procedures and to ensure the validity and reliability of these tests for students with limited English proficiency, such as reviewing test questions for bias. However, our group of experts expressed concerns about whether all states are assessing these students in a valid manner, noting that some states lack the resources and technical expertise to take appropriate steps to ensure the validity of tests for these students. Further, Education's peer reviews of assessments in 38 states found that 25 states did not provide adequate evidence to ensure the validity or reliability of academic test results for these students. 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. A minority of 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 are implementing new English language proficiency assessments in 2006 to meet NCLBA requirements; 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. Consortia and state officials reported taking steps to ensure the validity of these tests, such as conducting field tests. A 2005 Education-funded technical review of available documentation for 17 English language proficiency tests found insufficient documentation of the validity of these assessments' results. Education has offered a variety of technical assistance to help states assess students with limited English proficiency, such as peer reviews of states' academic assessments. However, Education has issued little written guidance to states on developing English language proficiency tests. Officials in one-third of the 33 states we visited or directly 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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education's Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Partnership (announced immediately after GAO's report in July 2006) has been working to provide technical assistance on this issue. In October 2007, the Partnership published a draft framework for developing high quality English language proficiency (ELP) standards and assessments. The framework is intended to help states identify their technical assistance needs with respect to ELP standards and assessments. In December 2007, Education invited states to undertake an independent and voluntary review of their ELP standards and assessments using the framework and offered technical assistance in support of this effort. Between March and May 2008, Education worked with 6 states to review their ELP standards and assessments and obtained feedback on the draft framework. The final framework is expected to be published in October 2008. Further, the LEP partnership has initiated work on a technical assistance project to help states consider issues related to linking their ELP and academic assessments. A guide on considerations in linking ELP and academic assessments was disseminated at the partnership's October 2007 meeting. Finally, in May 2008, Education also published a Notice of Proposed Interpretation that provided more guidance with respect to ELP assessments and tracking the progress of LEP students in learning English.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should publish additional guidance with more specific information on the requirements for assessing English language proficiency and tracking the progress of students with limited English proficiency in learning English.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education's LEP Partnership (announced immediately after GAO's report in July 2006) has been working to identity states' technical assistance needs. For example, the partnership has met with states in August and October of 2006 to discuss areas for which states need additional technical assistance. Based on this input, the Education has initiated work on 6 technical assistance projects, developing, among other things, a framework for English language proficiency standards and assessments, along with guides for developing native language and simplified assessments and conducting sight translations. The guides are expected to be published at the partnership's next meeting in October 2007 and will help states more validly and reliably assess the academic knowledge of LEP students.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should determine what additional technical assistance states need with respect to assessing the academic knowledge of students with limited English proficiency and to improve the validity and reliability of their assessment results (such as consultations with assessment experts and examples of assessments targeted to these students) and provide such additional assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency's LEP Partnership (announced immediately after GAO's report in July 2006) has been working to provide technical assistance on this issue. Specifically, the partnership has initiated work on 6 technical assistance projects, including developing a handbook on appropriate accommodations for LEP students. This handbook is expected to be completed in the fall of 2008. In October 2006, an Education funded study on accommodations for LEP students was published on the partnership website (Practical Guidelines for the Education of English Language Learners: Research-Based Recommendations for the Use of Accommodations in Large-Scale Assessments).

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should support additional research on appropriate accommodations for students with limited English proficiency and disseminate information on research-based accommodations to states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on a recent notice in the Federal Register, Education has considered and implemented some additional flexibility for states with respect to accountability requirements for students with limited English proficiency (LEP)--specifically the requirements that LEP students served by Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act are (1) making progress in learning English, (2) attaining proficiency in English, and (3) meeting the state's annual yearly progress goals in language arts and math. On October 17, 2008, Education published a notice of final interpretation that revised Education's interpretation to provide more flexibility in how states are held accountable for the performance of LEP students. For example, rather than requiring states to demonstrate that a student had made progress separately in the four required language domains, the notice allows states to demonstrate student progress in learning English based on progress in one or more of the language domains or based on a single composite score. Education also revised its requirement that a state demonstrate that all LEP students have made progress in learning English and now allows students to exclude those students who have not participated in at least two administrations of the state's annual English language proficiency test. Education also revised its interpretation to permit states to use its annual yearly progress results for all LEP students, rather than just Title III served LEP students, to meet the Title III language arts and math progress goals because some states do not have the systems in place to accurate determine progress for just Title III served LEP students.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should explore ways to provide additional flexibilities to states in terms of holding states accountable for students with limited English proficiency. For example, among the flexibilities that could be considered are allowing states to include the assessment scores for all students formerly considered to have limited English proficiency in a state's annual progress results for the group of students with limited English proficiency; extending the period during which the assessment scores for some or all students with limited English proficiency would not be included in a state's annual progress results; and adjusting how states account for recent immigrants with little formal schooling in their annual progress results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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