Most four- and five-year-olds who take an English proficiency exam before kindergarten are bound to fail the test, according to a new study.
Taking the California English Language Development Test “almost guarantees” a student will be classified as an English learner, the University of California, Berekely’s Center for Latino Policy Research, study reports. Just 12 percent of kindergarten students who took the CELDT in the 2009-2010 school year were considered English language proficient, misidentifying the many others as English learners, according to the study.
When the Los Angeles Unified School District is removed from the sample, the English language proficiency rate falls to just 6 percent. LAUSD tested “an exceptionally large” number of students — 30,774, and carried one of the higher proficiency rates, according to the research.
The CELDT serves to identify students who need help with English, determine how much assistance they need and evaluate their progress in acquiring the skills necessary to be English-proficient. Almost 1.3 million children in California take the exam annually.
The CELDT is the second of a two-part English-learner idenficiation process. The first, which most California school districts employ, is a four-question survey for parents:
Which language did your child learn when he/she first began to talk?
Which language does your child most frequently speak at home?
Which language do you (the parents or guardians) most frequently use when speaking with your child?
Which language is most often spoken by adults in the home? (parents, guardians, grandparents, or any other adults)
The study found that in most surveyed districts, a child is administered the CELDT if their parent or guardian included any language other than English — and in some cases, a foreign language in addition to English.
The research was led by Lisa García Bedolla, an associate professor at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, and Rosaisela Rodriguez, an academic coordinator there and a research specialist.
Bedolla and Rodriguez also found that the proportion of incoming English learner kindergarteners was much higher than the proportion of incoming kindergarteners in the entire district. They also questioned the validity and ethicality of offering a two-hour exam to young children without a parent present and almost entirely in English — when they are considered not yet proficient in the language.
The researchers report children crying or hiding under chairs and tables under pressure from the exam.
“We conclude that this likely over-classification of [English learner] students by the CELDT compromises California public schools’ ability to serve the language development needs of its [English learner] students,” the researchers write.
Bedolla notes that schools have incentives to consider students English learners — like receiving $5 from the state for each test administered, recognition for improving students’ English abilities and receiving extra federal funding.
Bedolla said in a statement last week that if the trend continues, the number of young children classified as English learners in California “may grow exponentially.” The researchers’ suggestions include reassessing the classification survey, considering bilingualism a benefit to students and providing a means for families to address potential English learner misidentification.
Recent studies have also shown that children from bilingual families reap several benefits, including being more flexible thinkers in the long-run.
Marina del Rey
West Los Angeles