The Challenge of Assessing Language Proficiency Aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Some Possible Solutions

Author: Bailey, A.L. & Wolf, M.K.
Organization: Understanding Language: Stanford University School of Education

For the past decade, there has been a significant change in assessing the English language proficiency (ELP) of English language learners (ELLs). Since the accountability reform efforts of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001), an emphasis has been placed on measuring the kind of language proficiency students presumably need in order to succeed in academic contexts. Title III of NCLB first made the suggestion that the ELP standards that are adopted by each state be "linked" — in an unspecified fashion — to the states' academic content standards, and that the states' ELP assessments be aligned to their respective ELP standards. This mandate has been interpreted by many states as calling for a link between ELP standards and English language arts (ELA) standards. Yet, as state ELA standards are varied in their breadth, depth, and emphasis of content, varied ELP standards have been formulated. A general consensus has emerged that ELP assessments should measure students' academic language proficiency in order to gauge the accessibility of content instruction for ELL students. However, varied ELP standards and definitions of the language proficiency construct represent a major challenge for developing and validating the current generation of ELP assessments (e.g., Wolf, Farnsworth, & Herman, 2008).

This report sees both promise and new challenges in the assessment of ELP with the advent of the national movement toward Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Mathematics, ELA and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects and the Next Generation Science Standards from Achieve Inc. based on the recent framework developed by the National Research Council (2011). Now that they have a common set of core content standards across most states, one potential benefit is that we can focus on identifying and measuring the linguistic knowledge and skills that students will need in order to meet the CCSS, potentially simplifying and streamlining the development of ELP assessments. Another promising aspect is that the CCSS specify the literacy skills in grades 6-12 expected for the content areas, including social studies and science, which are also mapped to skills delineated in the ELA standards. That is, the CCSS attempt to establish common language skills across the different content areas. In doing so the CCSS offer language test developers the benefits of target expectations from which to create measures of ELP needed to acquire content (and demonstrate learning) expressed in the CCSS. However, the CCSS also pose challenges for future ELP assessment. The twin goals of this paper are to discuss the significant challenges of assessing ELP in ways that are aligned to the content of the CCSS, and to offer practical suggestions for the development of next generation ELP assessments that take account of the CCSS.


Bailey, A.L. & Wolf, M.K. (2012). The Challenge of Assessing Language Proficiency Aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Some Possible Solutions. Understanding Language: Stanford University School of Education.