Publications & Resources

Academic Language and Content Assessment: Measuring the Progress of English Language Learners (ELLs)

Dec 2000

Robin A. Stevens, Frances A. Butler, and Martha Castellon-Wellington

As the nation moves toward inclusion of all students in large-scale assessments for purposes of accountability, there is an urgent need to determine when English language learners (ELLs) are able to express what they know on a standardized content test in English. At stake is the validity and reliability of the scores for ELLs and the resulting educational decisions made on the basis of these scores. Because tests are used increasingly to make high-stakes educational decisions, a means for including ELLs in a fair and equitable way is needed. One approach to assuring validity of test scores is to determine at what point ELLs are fluent enough to express what they know on a content test in English.

This study investigates the relationships between the language and performance of seventh-grade ELLs on two tests-a language proficiency test and a standardized achievement test. The language of the two tests is analyzed and compared, followed by analyses of concurrent performance on the same two tests. Language analyses indicate that the correspondence between the language of the two tests is limited. Data analyses of student performance show that, although there is a statistically significant relationship between performance on the two tests, the correlations are modest. An additional finding indicates that there are statistically significant within-group performance differences, providing evidence that ELLs are not a homogenous group. Furthermore, item-response analyses provide evidence that, for the highest performing group of ELLs in the study, language may be less of an issue than the content itself.

Stevens, R. A., Butler, F. A., & Castellon-Wellington, M. (2000). Academic language and content assessment: Measuring the progress of English language learners (ELLs) (CSE Report 552). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).