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How Language Proficiency Tests Mislead Us About Ability: Implications for English Language Learner Placement in Special Education


by Jeff MacSwan & Kellie Rolstad — 2006

The authors argue that English language learner (ELL) language assessment policy and poor language tests partly account for ELLs’ disproportionate representation in special education. Previous research indicates that many states routinely assess ELLs’ first language (L1) at initial enrollment and that ELLs identified as limited in both languages have relatively high rates of identification in special education. Two common tests, the Language Assessment Scales–Oral (LAS–O) Español and the Idea Proficiency Test I–Oral (IPT) Spanish, are shown to identify 74% and 90%, respectively, Spanish-background ELLs (N = 145) as limited L1 students, whereas a natural language measure found only 2% of participants to have unexpectedly high morphological error rates. Correlations are provided. The authors recommend changes in language testing policies and practices for ELLs.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 11, 2006, p. 2304-2328
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12806, Date Accessed: 11/17/2017 6:02:38 PM

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About the Author
  • Jeff MacSwan
    Arizona State University
    E-mail Author
    JEFF MACSWAN is an associate professor of language and literacy in the College of Education at Arizona State University. His research focuses on the linguistic study of bilingualism (codeswitching and language contact) and on language minority education. Recent examples of his work appear in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Bilingual Research Journal, Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, and Bhatia and Ritchie’s Handbook of Bilingualism (Blackwell, 2004). MacSwan has served as a visiting scholar in the MIT Linguistics Department and the Center for the Study of Multilingualism at the University of Hamburg. In 2003, he was selected as a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow.
  • Kellie Rolstad
    Arizona State University
    KELLIE ROLSTAD is an associate professor of language and literacy and early childhood education at Arizona State University. Her research interests include early childhood bilingualism, language diversity, bilingual education programs and theory, and two-way bilingual immersion. Her work has appeared in the Bilingual Research Journal, Bilingual Review, Teachers College Record, and Educational Policy, among others, and she has served as a visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Education at both Harvard University and UCLA.
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