spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
 Research & Programs

Topic 4: Assessment

Students in immersion programs are learning the curriculum through the vehicle of a language other than English but must demonstrate their comprehension on English-language standardized tests. What does this mean for immersion programs?

Practitioner Perspectives

Practitioner Perspectives

How do immersion students fare on standardized tests administered in English?

Parents are routinely advised that children in immersion programs may not perform well on whatever standardized tests are required by their state in the primary elementary years. If children are receiving all their classroom instruction in the target language during kindergarten, first grade, and perhaps even second or third grade, their reading skills may not be strong enough in English to successfully complete the standardized tests. Nor may they have the necessary English vocabulary in subject areas such as social studies, math or science to understand the nuances of questions posed on such exams. Despite this primary level disadvantage, parents are informed, intermediate level immersion students (grade 4 and above) are expected to have transferred their reading skills from the target language to English and to have had enough exposure to academic subjects to enable them to perform just as well on standardized tests as their non-immersion peers.

How does state-required testing in English for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) affect immersion program integrity?

The requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation stipulate regular standardized testing in English to assess student progress from one year to the next. Some immersion schools, concerned about the need to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” on the part of their students, have decided to modify some of their instructional goals. They may, for example, decide to prepare students for English-medium testing by drilling some of the English vocabulary that students will need to make sense of questions about math or science concepts. Normally, this kind of translation exercise would not be part of the classroom strategies that teachers use in an immersion setting.

Other schools have decided to introduce formal study of English at an earlier grade level, typically starting in Grade 2 instead of later, thereby increasing the number of hours immersion students study English Language Arts and decreasing the number of hours spent on instruction in the immersion language. Even though research has shown no consistent correlation between the amount of time spent on English instruction and student achievement in English, administrators and teachers cite the high stakes atmosphere of standardized testing required by NCLB as their motivation for making program modifications that reduce the actual time students are engaged in content-based language learning.

On a more positive note, the results of standardized testing in English can be used to inform instruction in the immersion language - to the extent that certain skills taught in the immersion language will transfer to English. As such, some schools use the results of English-medium tests to plan and execute instructional objectives in the target language. For example, one school in our focus groups noticed that students were not achieving as well as expected on sections of standardized tests that assess inferential reading comprehension. Since making inferences is a skill that can be taught, and learned, in both English and the immersion language, the staff focused its curriculum writing efforts for immersion language arts on inferential questioning in order to address the deficiency and support immersion language growth at the same time.

Readings from the ACIE Archives

Meeting the Challenges of No Child Left Behind in U.S. Immersion Education-Anderson, ACIE Bridge, May 2005

Comparison Contexts: African-American Students, Immersion, and Achievement – Haj-Broussard, ACIE, May 2005

How Are We Doing? One School’s Experience with Self-Assessment - Fabas-Pirie, ACIE, November 2003

Using English Achievement Data to Promote Immersion Education - Reid, ACIE Bridge, March 2000

Standardized Testing: Overcoming the Threat to Immersion Education – Minnich, ACIE, March 2000

Immersion Incorporates Standards – Abbott, ACIE, February 1998

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