Assessments of Students in Bilingual Education

Key Words: Information, Deafness Related Issues, Deaf Education

Amy L. Pack

Kent State University

Arias, M., & Casanova, U. (1993). Assessment of students in bilingual education. Bilingual Education: Politics, Practice and Research, 92(2), 144-167.


The reason to consider bilingual education is an approach to educating youngsters, who for reasons of language, are at a disadvantage in English-speaking classrooms. These students are entitled to receive a specialized form of instruction that takes into account their language differences. The intent is to enable them to learn academic content in their native language as they acquire sufficient language skills to enter the English-speaking classroom.

To satisfy federal regulations, school districts are required to determine who is mandated to receive special instructional services. School districts receiving funding from federal and state governments must demonstrate that students are learning English and that they are performing competently on tests of academic achievement in other subjects. Because performance on standardized tests has been tied to promotional policies, many bilingual students have been retained, some as many as two to three times. Those students that are held back are typically subjected to the type of curriculum that duplicates the content, format, and language of tests. Worse yet, many students are tested and placed inappropriately in remedial or special education programs on the basis of such measures.

Assessment in bilingual education traditionally serves both administrative and instructional functions. Included among the administrative functions are determining the students' rights to services, placing students in appropriate classes within existing programs, and evaluating program effectiveness. Once students are identified and placed, assessment moves into the domain of instruction. Two types of instruments used in assessment are the home language survey and the language rating scale.

Overall, dominance testing for placements tells educators very little about the specific linguistic or instructional needs of individual students. While formal measures provide more standardized and reliable information than home language surveys and scales, all focus heavily on linguistic competence and knowledge of language isolation rather than on competence in the context of learning academic content. The focus on linguistic competence to the exclusion of sociolinguistic competence gives one information on what students know about a language or what they can do with language in an artificial context. Oral language proficiency tests and language assessment batteries usually cannot tell us what students are able to do with language in face-to-face communication in the classrooms when academic content is the focus of instruction. Although there may be a battery of tests designed to be context-sensitive, such tests cannot fully replicate a natural communicative context.

In summary, the major problem with assessment as it has evolved in bilingual education is that it has responded to legal concerns and political pressures rather than to the real needs of students. Because of the emphasis on the acquisition of English, summative forms of assessment of English language skills have dominated the field. In addition, traditional testing of both language proficiency and academic achievement has yielded very little information about bilingual students as learners.

Key Point:

Uploaded by: Jessica Soltesz, Kent State University, Deaf Education Major