On SAGE Insight: The Language Policy of Placement Tests for Newcomer English Learners

From Educational Policy

With the recent passage of new educational law (Every Child Succeeds Act, or ESSA), all US states are re-examining their policies for identifying English learners. U.S. public schools are required to establish policies ensuring that English language learners have equal access to “meaningful education.” This demands that districts put into place mechanisms to determine student eligibility for specialized English language services.

The WIDA–Access Placement Test (W-APT),  is often the first testing experience an English learner has upon entering a school district, and his or her test score affects his or her initial placement in a school and in an English language program. The W-APT works as language education policy in powerful and unanticipated ways.  It has been in constant and quickly expanding use by states since its development in 2005, yet has never been closely examined. This article addresses this gap by analyzing the W-APT as a case study of U.S. language policy in practice. The paper critically examines how schools identify and place new English language learners. It is the first examination of a near national-wide test and reveals substantial limitations. Findings suggest the need to invest in training testers carefully and regularly, and most importantly, to take these scores as just one of multiple data points in making important decisions about student needs, strengths, and appropriate placements.

Abstract

U.S. public schools are required to establish policies ensuring that English language learners have equal access to “meaningful education.” This demands that districts put into place mechanisms to determine student eligibility for specialized English language services. For the most states, this federal requirement is fulfilled through the local administration of the WIDA–Access

Placement Test (W-APT), arguably the most widely used, yet under-studied, English language assessment in the country. Through intensive participant observation at one, urban new student intake center, and detailed qualitative, discursive analysis of test administration and interaction, we demonstrate how the W-APT works as a high-stakes assessment, screener, and sorter, and how test takers and test administrators locally negotiate this test and enact this federal and state policy. Our analysis indicates that the W-APT is problematic in several respects, most importantly because the test does not differentiate adequately across students with widely different literacy skills and formal schooling experiences.

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Article detail
Research-article
The Language Policy of Placement Tests for Newcomer English Learners
Kendall King, Martha Bigelow
First Published December 4, 2016
Educational Policy
DOI: 10.1177/08959048166815270000

 

 

 

     
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