Assessing the English Language Learner

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Assessing the English Language Learner (ELL)

The Growth of ELL (ESL)
The number of human beings who speak a language other than English continues to increase in the United States, Canada, and Australia, for example, as the number of immigrants grows. In 2006, 34.70% of the population of Los Angeles, California, was foreign born; 25.50% of Miami, Florida; 39.60% of Vancouver, British Columbia; 45.70% of Toronto, Ontario; 28.90% of Melbourne, Australia; and 31.70% of Sydney, Australia (Statistics Canada, 2008). In the United States, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2004) reported that “The number and percentage of language minority youth and young adults— that is, individuals who speak a language other than English at home—increased steadily in the United States between 1979 and 1999” (p. 1). NCES added, Of those individuals ages 5–24 in 1979, 6 million spoke a language other than English at home. By 1999, that number had more than doubled, to 14 million. Accordingly, of all 5- to 24-year-olds in the United States, the percentage who were language minorities increased from 9 percent in 1979 to 17 percent in 1999. (p. 1)

The number of ESL students in U.S. public schools has almost tripled over the last decade (Goldenberg, 2006). In 2004 Crawford observed that one-fourth of the school-age students in the United States were from homes where a language other than English was spoken. The school-age population (K–12) will reach about 40% ESL in about 20 years (Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence, 2002). Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Spanish speakers increased from about 20 to 31 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). The Census Bureau report also showed a significant increase in the number of speakers from other linguistic groups, particularly Chinese and Russian. Individuals at all ages enter school to learn the English skills they need to learn, gain employment and participate in society. Planning for their instruction is a significant issue for teachers at all levels and assessment becomes central. In this chapter we first define and differentiate terms such as ESL and ELL and describe the populations they represent. The use of assessment measures to place students into appropriate instructional groups is described and the distinction between interpersonal and academic language is reviewed. The use of assessment in the classroom and as a gate-keeping tool is addressed in addition to the appropriateness of the use of published measures to assess ESL students. The first issue addressed is terminology. Defining ELL

Over the years students who speak a language other than English have been titled English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. However, English in some cases is not the second language (L2), but may be the third (L3), the 4th (L4), etc., language, and, as a result, members of this population have different linguistic resources to draw on. The term “English Language Learner” (ELL) has been adopted by educators, primarily in the United States, to describe better the notion that English may not be the L2. However, it is not a particularly good term because students who speak English as a First Language (L1) are also English language learners (Gunderson, 2008). The term “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” (TESOL) is used outside of the United States. Students who learn English in environments where it is not the language of the community are referred to as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students. The pedagogy related to EFL is different from ESL (ELL) because students are not immersed in English in the community and the major task of the teacher is to try to provide them English models (Gunderson, 2008, 2009). An added difficulty with the term “ESL” or “ELL” is that it does not adequately characterize the diversity of human beings it represents. Those who use the term “ELL” do so to describe those K–12 students who come from homes in which the language...
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