Article Review: Using Standardized Tests to Make High-Stake Decisions About English-Language Learners: Dilemmas and Critical Issues
Article: Using standardized tests to make high-stake decisions on English-language learners: dilemmas and critical issues
Author: Maria del Rosario Basterra
Equityreview’s article Using Standardized Tests to Make High-Sake Decisions on English-Language Learners: Dilemmas and Critical Issues looks at American ELLs and their participation in the National Voluntary Test, which is a standardized exam in the United States. Although this article is specific to America, there are several good points made regarding standardized testing in general with regards to ELLs. The report has come from observations on the changing demographics in American schools and the fact that ELLs, or language minority students, have not been successful overall in the education system (Basterra, 1998-1999). The article was structured into four topics, which interwove together; critical issues concerning ELL assessment, problems that need to be addressed, the improper use of standardized achievement scores used to determine major decisions and proposed recommendations (Basterra, 1998-1999).
Basterra (1998-1999) states that if a student’s English level is not skilled enough then their test scores will not clearly demonstrate their abilities and understanding of the subject being tested. In a 1997 report the National Research Council, in America, indicated three major issues with standardized tests; first, there are norm biases due to the number of ELLs writing these tests being much smaller than non-ELLs; second, there is bias in the content presented, which is targeted at the main culture being represented in the test, and this neglects ELLs from diverse cultural backgrounds; third, generally the structure of tests can pose a challenge with regards to timing and vocabulary content (Basterra, 1998-1999). A major question, which is not unique to this article, was Basterra’s (1998-1999) questioning of whether standardized exams should be used as the central focus when assessing an ELL student. As a recommendation Basterra (1998-1999) noted that instead of relying solely on standardized exams, that performance assessment should also be a part of the evaluation. Performance assessments need to also be carefully constructed to accurately demonstrate true learning, and it is still vital to note that even these tests can pose challenges and should not be relied on as a full assessment of the learner (Basterra, 1998-1999). Basterra (1998-1999) commented that although standardized exams can have a benefit to teachers, student placement and parental and student awareness of needs that they can also be misused and over used for major decision making. For example, to use standardized exams as a measure of high school graduation is a gross misuse of this style of exam (Basterra, 1998-1999). Basterra (1998-1999) concluded by recommending performance be assessed using alternate forms of assessment that incorporate awareness of biases and allow ELLs a more equal advantage to their non-ELL pupils. It was acknowledged that it is a difficult task to make the adaptations and alterations to testing; however, Baterra (1998-1999) was firm on her stance that changes need to be made for the growth of equity and inclusion.
In my own opinion of standardized exams I believe they need to be used very carefully and judiciously. I agree very much with the arguments set forth my Basterra and believe there is a time and place for exams, and especially standardized exams. There needs to be a balance between different forms of assessment to gain a whole picture of a student’s ability, progress and potential. Standardized exams should not be used to determine major decisions, such as high school completion, university entrance or job placements. Standardized exams I feel are better suited for decisions which do not affect permanent decisions; such as the placements in classrooms, where adjustments can be made once the student is able to demonstrate their full range of abilities. Standardized exams should also be used sparingly and for very specific purposes. They need to be created in a very careful way which reduces the potential of bias, and especially for ELLs, cultural bias. For example, I conducted standardized tests in a foreign setting and an animal used in the exam was a beaver, many students were unfamiliar with this animal and because of this their response to the question could not be trusted as an accurate reading of their knowledge. Cultural bias is a very important factor to be aware of and not only for ELLs, but for different cultural groups within any given population.
Basterra, Maria del Rosario. (1998-1999). Using standardized tests to make high-stake decisions on
English-language learners: dilemmas and critical issues. Equityreview. Retrieved from
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