Setting cut scores for English learners

Setting cut scores for English learners

(Calif.) Work begins this month on a key step in updating the state’s efforts to teach English to some 1.3 million students who speak a foreign language at home.

Legislation approved in 2011 called on the California State Board of Education to update and revise the existing curriculum standards for English language development, which the board did a year later.

New assessments aligned to the new standards have since been created and were field tested last spring. Now, a diverse group of educators, testing experts and policy officials have been assigned the task of calibrating the new tests to gauge student progress.

The goal for local educational agencies is to ensure that English learners acquire full proficiency in English as quickly and effectively as possible so that they can meet the same academic expectations of all other students.

The “threshold” scores that the panelists will begin working on this month will be used to determine the entry and exit points between the performance levels of English learners. The state uses three broad descriptions of proficiency, although the test cut scores apply a more refined assessment of student performance.

The tests themselves are given in pencil and paper and are administered to students in kindergarten through high school. Domains measured at listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Participants in the cut score program will meet in workshop formats at different locations in the state. Their recommendations will be presented to the state board at the November meeting where the board is expected to take final action to allow formal testing to begin in the spring of 2018.

Of the state’s English learners, the vast majority speak Spanish–about 83 percent. There are about 2 percent that speak Vietnamese, with Mandarin, Arabic, Filipino and Cantonese representing the next largest pools of students.

English learners enter the school system with a wide range of competence in their native language based on their age and education level.

At the first stage of development, English learners are defined as having limited “receptive and productive” English skills. As they progress through the first stage, they begin to respond to more varied communication tasks using learned words and phrases with in­creasing ease, according to the state’s English Language Development Standards.

The intermediary stage is called the Expanding level. Here English learners are able to “refashion learned phrases and sentences in English to meet their immediate communication and learning needs toward being able to increasingly engage in using the English language in more complex, cognitively demand­ing situations.”

The final stage for English learners is referred to as the Bridging level, where students transition from basic communication tied to specific tasks and settings–to more refined and sophisticated contact.