ERIC Identifier: ED356232
Publication Date: 1992-07-00
Author: Geisinger, Kurt F. - Carlson, Janet F.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC.
Assessing Language-Minority Students. ERIC Digest.
Today, 15% to 20% of our schoolchildren speak a foreign language at home, and
their number is growing rapidly. By definition, these limited-English proficient
(LEP) students do not speak English as their primary language, and their culture
frequently differs from that of most Americans. These differences in language
and culture influence how LEP students do in school and on the various tests we
generally use to evaluate students.
However, we cannot cluster all LEP students into a single, identifiable
group. For example, while we may view Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and
Central Americans all as Hispanics, each group has significant demographic,
behavioral, and geographic differences (see Geisinger, 1992).
This digest discusses important aspects of assessing LEP students:
o understanding the role of culture,
o evaluating and selecting tests,
o determining the validity of those tests, and
o administering tests.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF CULTURE?
students emerge from cultures that differ from the dominant culture in American
society. According to the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing: "Behavior that may appear eccentric or that may be judged negatively in one
culture may be appropriate in another. For example, children from some cultures
may be reluctant to establish rapport with unknown adults. [They] may be trained
to speak to adults only in response to specific questions....Thus, in a testing
situation such children may respond to an adult who is probing for elaborate
speech with only short phrases or by shrugging their shoulders' (American
Educational Research Association, et al., 1985, p. 74).
Therefore, we need to understand how cultural background influences LEP
students' approaches to test taking. Especially with tests measuring and
interpreting personality, we may need to consider the student's individual level
of acculturation. Acculturation is the process of changing attitudes and
behavior after living for some time in a different culture.
HOW SHOULD WE EVALUATE AND SELECT TESTS?
tests for LEP students, we can use many of the same criteria used for evaluating
tests for all students. For the explicit use intended, tests should be
o properly developed,
o reliable, and
samples should include adequate numbers of language-minority students, and
reliability and validation (criterion-related or construct validation-related)
research should include adequate numbers of LEP students. Besides the evidence
to justify using the test with all students, separate evidence should document
the reliability and validity of the test scores of LEP students.
In addition, test publishers need to document their efforts to ensure the
fairness of their tests--for example:
o having sensitivity panels review test questions early in development,
o documenting evidence showing the effective use of the test with LEP
o citing differential validation research showing that the test is equally
valid and appropriate for use with language-majority and -minority students.
developers generally investigate the bias of individual test questions as well
as the whole test. Some test developers also provide useful guidelines on how to
use test scores in certain contexts.
HOW VALID ARE TESTS LIKELY TO BE WITH LEP STUDENTS?
limited evidence addresses the validity of tests with LEP students.
Pennock-Roman (1990) has studied the use of various tests of admission to higher
education with language-minority students, and her results apply for many uses
of educational tests. In general, she concludes that tests like the Scholastic
Aptitude Test (SAT) appear valid for most language-minority students. She also
indicates, however, that these results hold only for the short term because
students' language abilities generally improve over time. For students with very
weak English language skills, tests such as the SAT probably will not validly
predict success. She also found that tests of educational achievement in Spanish
improved the prediction of college grades over and above the SAT.
Language-proficiency tests play an important role in the valid assessment of
LEP students, and educators often use these tests to identify students likely to
benefit from bilingual education (Duran, 1989). Perhaps we don't need to
administer such tests when LEP students succeed on tests in English. But when
LEP students struggle with tests in English, we need to routinely administer and
interpret language-proficiency tests, perhaps along with achievement tests in
students' native language.
Unfortunately, many language-proficiency tests are flawed. For example, they
commonly test students in a single modality--a paper-and-pencil test that
ignores spoken and oral comprehension (see Duran, 1989; Oller and Damico, 1991).
Multimodal measurement is important because of the longer time it takes to
acquire language proficiency needed for academic learning than for ordinary
HOW SHOULD WE ADMINISTER TESTS TO LEP STUDENTS?
(1990) suggests that, in accordance with PL 94-142, we should assess linguistic
minorities in both English and their native language. This ideal rarely is
possible, however. Few tests are available in languages other than English.
Further, test developers cannot simply translate a test from one language to
another; they must also independently establish reliability, validity, and norms
for the translated test (AERA et al., 1985).
In all testing situations, we need to understand the cultures that test
takers come from so we can consider their behavior from their cultural
perspective. Under the best conditions, we should be able to communicate in
students' native languages when necessary.
Researchers have recommended other ways to test LEP students. Figueroa (1990)
has suggested using non-verbal tests of intelligence instead of
English-language-dependent tests; however, such tests frequently do not predict
future educational performance as effectively as verbal tests. Duran (1989) has
advocated using a test-teach-test paradigm: After testing to ensure that an LEP
student does not know a particular concept, a test administrator teaches the
student the concept and then tests the student again. But this technique is hard
to quantify, standardize, and validate, as well as being time-consuming. Still,
it may informally describe a student's learning ability.
Research findings often drive assessment
practices. But now, driven by practical needs, we are beginning to establish
sound practices for testing LEP students. Because the LEP population is growing
so rapidly, it has received increasing attention. Educational testing is
particularly important because of the practical policy questions facing
educators. For example, policy questions have lead to legal battles over the
disproportionate numbers of LEP students placed in remedial education classes
(e.g., Childs, 1990; Elliott, 1987).
In 1985, three professional associations published a new edition of the
standards for testing, which for the first-time addressed the testing of
language minorities. By adhering to sound and professionally accepted testing
practices, we will continue to make progress in testing LEP students.
American Educational Research Association,
American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in
Education. (1985). Standards for educational and psychological testing.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Childs, R. A. (1990). Legal issues in testing. Washington, DC: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Tests, Measurement, and Evaluation, American Institutes for
Duran, R. P. (1989). Testing of linguistic minorities. In R. L. Linn (Ed.),
Educational measurement (3rd ed., pp. 573-587). New York: American Council on
Education & Macmillan.
Elliott, R. (1987). Litigating intelligence: IQ tests, special education, and
social science in the classroom. Dover, MA: Auburn House.
Figueroa, R. A. (1990). Best practices in the assessment of bilingual
children. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school
psychology (pp. 93-106). Washington, DC: National Association of School
Geisinger, K. F. (Ed.) (1992). The psychological testing of Hispanics.
Washington, DC: APA.
Oller, J. W., Jr., & J. S. Damico. (1991). Theoretical considerations in
the assessment of LEP students. In E. V.
Hamayan & J. S. Damico (Eds.), Limiting bias in the assessment of
bilingual students (pp. 77-110). Austin, TX: Proed.
Pennock-Roman, M. (1990). Test validity and language background.: A study of
Hispanic American students at six universities. New York: College Entrance