ASBJ Examines Fairness of State Assessments to English Language Learners


California Lawsuit Could Affect Districts Nationwide

Alexandria, Va. – August 1 – In a lawsuit that could affect school systems across the country, 10 school districts and civil rights organizations are challenging California’s method of testing English Language Learners, according to the cover story of the August issue of American School Board Journal.  

The Journal also examines the multiple challenges school districts face as they educate a growing population of students whose native language is not English.   “Language Test, by Naomi Dillon, Journal associate editor, focuses on the Coachella Valley Unified School District in Riverside, Calif., where 70 percent of the students are classified as English Language Learners.

“Despite pretty clear research that it takes somewhere between five and seven years to acquire English sufficient to be able to test academics, California tests all kids regardless of language and proficiency in English,” says Marc Coleman, one of the attorneys representing Coachella.      

The article notes that California requires English Language Learners to take standardized tests in English after only one year.  Coachella and the other plaintiffs allege that the test unfairly prevents the districts from meeting state and federal standards, making them appear substandard.

“They have a stacked deck, and they have no way of overcoming it,” attorney Coleman says, adding that the long-term consequences of being labeled underperforming are “pretty severe.”

In fact, Dillon writes, the state of California has warned that inattention to English Language Learners could have serious ramifications for everyone.

“If our schools are not successful with this group, we will have failed not only the students, but also failed to adequately provide a trained workforce for the state’s economy,” according to a report by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The Journal article examines the nationwide growth of English Language Learners and the challenges school districts face, including finding qualified teachers, discovering the best way to improve the students’ chances of success, and navigating standardized testing. 

The Journal notes that the number of English Language Learners has almost doubled in the last decade and could reach 30 percent of the nation’s total student population in the next 10 years.

Deborah Short, director of language education and academic development for the Washington, D.C.-based Applied Linguistics Center, tells the Journal it is unrealistic to think that non-English speakers can master core subject areas in another language in California’s short time frame.

“Standardized tests do have a place, if they are appropriate,” she says.  “We need to learn what students know.  But I don’t think it’s appropriate if they’ve only been here for one year.”

Founded in 1891, the American School Board Journal is an award-winning, editorially independent education magazine published monthly by the National School Boards Association.

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