ERIC Identifier: ED410227
Publication Date: 1996-09-00
Author: Stansfield, Charles W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Assessment and Evaluation Washington DC.
Content Assessment in the Native Language. ERIC Digest.
For at least the past 15 years, education reform initiatives have emphasized
the role of assessment in their endeavors. As a result, a wide variety of
assessment programs have been initiated. As of 1994, forty-three states,
following the example of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),
had their own state assessment programs. These programs provide assessments of
all students at particular grade levels in a variety of content areas.
The results of such programs are used for a variety of purposes. They can be
utilized by elected and appointed state-level officials to monitor and evaluate
the quality of education being provided by their respective states. At the state
department of education level, results are often used to evaluate the quality of
education provided by districts and to identify the districts and schools that
are in need of improvement. District level results can also serve a similar
function. Additionally, districts use test results to identify which students
need special assistance to meet the expected academic standards. The process of
using mandated tests to evaluate schools as well as identify students in need of
remediation gives such tests considerable importance within the educational
However, not all students are able to participate in the assessment program.
Typically, schools defer or exempt students from participating if they cannot
speak, read, and write English. Consequently, the test results obtained by
schools often give an incomplete and, sometimes, misleading picture of the
quality of student achievement at the school. In schools where there are a large
number of non-native English speaking students, the school may exclude all of
those students from participating in the assessment program. Thus, the official
reported results may have little relationship to the actual status of
educational achievement in the school.
When students do not participate in a mandatory testing program, they lose
the benefits that participation provides. As implied above, these benefits
include an assessment of their educational attainment in the content areas and
the provision of appropriate remediation to those students who need it. When
students are not tested, they can easily be overlooked and forgotten by the
educational system. This is mainly because the absence of academic information
about these students grants the educational system a kind waiver of
responsibility for their educational achievement.
Failure to include non-native English speaking students in the testing
program can be especially critical if the students live in a state where a high
school graduation test is administered. According to a recent national survey
(Rivera et al., 1995), nineteen states require students to pass a test or a
battery of tests in order to obtain their high school diplomas. In nearly all
states, those students who have not yet acquired English (henceforth these
students will be referred to as English language learners as suggested by Rivera
& LaCelle-Peterson, 1994) are also required to pass the graduation test.
However, if they are English deficient, these students are routinely deferred
from taking this test until they become English proficient or are seniors in
high school. As a result of the deferral, the English language learners lose the
opportunity to practice taking this important test. In addition to this, these
students lose the opportunity for diagnosis of their educational attainment,
feedback about their progress, and the possibility of appropriate remediation.
For some students, a solution to the problems
previously described is content assessment in the student's native language.
Content assessment in the native language, otherwise known as native language
assessment, involves eliminating the language barrier posed by tests written in
English, to the degree possible. Native language assessment provides a less
biased indication of what students know and can do. It also can be used to
identify gaps in the native language literacy development. Finally, if students
are receiving content instruction in their native language, native language
assessment can also serve as a way to measure the continued development of their
In order to incorporate English language learners into the testing program,
special accommodations can be made for those students who do not yet have an
adequate command of English to take a test written in English. These
accommodations can take a variety of forms. In the remainder of this article,
some practical approaches to accommodating English language learners into a
district or state-mandated assessment program will be described.
Before the test is administered, teachers,
counselors, or program administrators should review each student's need for
special accommodations. This can be done by asking the following questions: 1)
Can the student understand and follow oral directions in English? 2) Can the
student read and understand written test directions in English? 3) Can the
student read and understand objective (multiple-choice) test questions written
in English? 4) Can the student write paragraph length responses to free response
(open-ended) questions in English?
If the answer to any of these questions is "no," then one or more of the
following accommodations may be appropriate.
Test Administration Accommodations can include an oral reading of test
directions in the student's native language, the repeated reading and
explanation of the test directions in English, a written translation of the test
directions into the student's native language, a written translation of the test
into the student's native language, an extended time limit, and the use of an
interpreter to render the questions into the student's native language.
Response Accommodations may consist of allowing the use of a bilingual
dictionary, giving the response orally in the student's native language, writing
the response in the native language, and the use of an interpreter to write the
student's response in English.
Setting\Facilities Accommodations can involve permitting small group testing,
individual testing, the use of a bilingual test administrator, and testing with
Two notes of caution are appropriate.
First, the use of an interpreter to translate questions into the student's
native language and to assist the student by writing his response in English can
easily lead to flawed test results. This may happen if the interpreter coaches
the student to select or state the correct answer. If an interpreter is to be
used, he or she must be carefully trained in order to avoid such situations.
Nevertheless, an alternative to having the English response written directly by
the interpreter is to allow the student to write the answer in his own native
language. After the completion of the test, all of the responses would be
translated into English. This adjustment in testing procedure might eliminate
the potential for coaching.
A second accommodation which should be approached with care is the use of a
translated version of the test. Not all components of a test are directly
translatable. As a result, it is often more appropriate to refer to the
non-English version of a test as an adaptation rather than a translation. In
adapted tests, some test items are replaced by more suitable items selected from
other forms, or some completely new items or item types are written. Generally
speaking, tests that assess content knowledge are more directly translatable
than tests that assess language. For example, in a subtest of spelling, where
the student must identify the correct spelling of an underlined word, the
translated version of that word may not pose a spelling problem in the student's
native language. As a result, the translated test may give an inflated estimate
of the student's spelling skills in the native language. Detailed technical
recommendations on the adaptation of tests to other languages are found in
Native language assessment is an option that
provides a means of incorporating more students into assessment programs. It is
particularly feasible in schools where large numbers of students speak the same
non-English language. It is also possible to develop native language versions of
a test in several languages. For instance, the New York State Department of
Education offers its high school graduation test, the Regent's Competency Exam,
in 20 languages. Additionally, the Rhode Island Department of Education
currently offers native language versions of its tests for grades 4, 8, and 10
in four languages which include Spanish, Portuguese, Laotian, and Cambodian.
Students who respond in Spanish are scored in Spanish. Responses in Portuguese,
Laotian, and Cambodian are translated to English and then scored. These very
interesting innovations ensure that more comprehensive data is collected on
student achievement and that schools strive to help all students attain high
Hambleton, R.K. (1994). Guidelines for Adapting
Educational and Psychological Tests: A Progress Report. European Journal of
Psychological Assessment, 10(3), 229-244.
Rivera, C. & LaCelle Peterson, M. October 1993. Will the National
Education Goals improve the progress of English language learners? ERIC Digest.
Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.
Rivera, C., Vincent, C, Hafner, A, & LaCelle-Peterson, M.1995. Statewide
assessment programs for the inclusion of LEP students: Findings from a national
survey of state assessment directors. Washington, DC: George Washington
University Center for Excellence and Equity in Education.