January 25, 2002

Researchers Question Reported Links Between English Immersion Programs and Rise in English Learner Test Scores

TEMPE, Ariz.—Claims that an overall rise in the Stanford-9 test scores of California's limited English proficient (LEP) students is due largely to the implementation of English immersion programs are not supported by the California Department of Education's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) data, according to an article published Friday in the Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA), an on-line peer-reviewed scholarly journal published by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

In the article, "Exito en California? A Validity Critique of Language Program Evaluations and Analysis of English Learner Test Scores," authors Marilyn Thompson, Kristen DiCerbo, Kate Mahoney and Jeff MacSwan state that although scores have risen for both English proficient (LP) and limited English proficient (LEP) students, "the achievement gap between LEP and EP students does not appear to be narrowing." Further, the researchers question both the use and results of recent California Stanford-9 test scores as a measure of the impact of English immersion programs.

According to the article, Stanford-9 test scores do not accurately gauge the academic achievement of students who are not proficient in English. Such tests, the researchers argue, cannot separate errors caused by limited language proficiency from those caused by limited academic proficiency. Those reading the results of the Stanford-9 test will not be able to tell whether an incorrect answer on a math problem, for example, is the result of poor math skills or limited English proficiency.

In addition, the Arizona State researchers found errors in the quantitative analysis of the Stanford-9 test scores from 1998-2000. Subsequent reports that linked the increase in test scores to English immersion programs misused and misinterpreted the California STAR data. After re-analyzing the California Stanford-9 data, the researchers found that "from 1998-2000, scores for LEP students remained substantially below the scores for EP students . . . and that with few exceptions this gap is not narrowing."

"Whatever the score differences between LEP and EP students, judgments of the effects of language program policy on LEP student achievement are not warranted by these data."

According to the authors, better ways of measuring the academic achievement of LEP students need to be found. Rather than using inaccurate measures like the Stanford-9, "[t]here is a strong need for research that is well-planned and well-executed." Then, educators, researchers and policymakers can join forces to establish education policies that will help LEP students to learn.

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