Publications & Resources

Improving the Equity and Validity of Assessment-Based Information Systems

Dec 1997

Zenaida Aguirre-Muñoz and Eva L. Baker

This report focuses on issues of validity and equity of assessments as they guide educational policies and practices for the education of limited English proficient students. Although estimates of the number of students who are English language learners (ELLs) vary, from self-reports in the 1990 census (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990) to surveys conducted of schools districts (Fleischman & Hopstock, 1993), their proportion is rising and may reach 10% by the end of the century. Although Spanish is the primary language for about three fourths of these students, Asian group languages – Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, Cambodian, Tagalog, Laotian and Korean – are represented in large numbers. Navajo and Russian are also significantly represented. The case of limited English proficient students is particularly instructive, for it illustrates the unprecedented challenge posed by the educational reforms of the 1990s: the simultaneous call for higher standards of performance in content areas and the inclusion of children of all backgrounds in the reform movement. Although this expanded set of requirements may be regarded by some as little more than optimistic rhetoric, state and federal legislation has been enacted to create policies and practices intended to raise the attainment of limited English proficient children. The challenge is twofold: to change the perceptions of the public and teaching personnel so that these goals may be accepted; and to achieve the twin goals of increased attainment and expanded participation. In the case of students who are not fluent in English, the situation is complicated by diverse public perceptions on the use of primary language in school. At the heart of much of the discussion is the role of language in student achievement and the expectation by a majority of the public that learning English should be a priority. Controversy exists, for instance, on the degree and length of time of maintenance of primary language in instruction. There is also a strong basic education movement in some sectors of the public, exemplified by the pressure for computationally oriented mathematics and phonics-based reading programs. These advocates take the position that the education system should demonstrate that it can teach children fundamentals before it tackles higher standards and more ambitious goals. The great success of the American system, its retention of more students through high school, is also its downfall, for the lack of demonstrable skills for many of these students is unacceptable. As the proportion rises of students in school who have home languages other than English, pressure increases for better approaches to teach and assess their learning.

Aguirre-Muñoz, Z., & Baker, E. L. (1997). Improving the equity and validity of assessment-based information systems (CSE Report 462). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).