English Language Learning and Assessment in
U.S. K–12 Education
Our research scientists and assessment specialists are working with educators, policymakers and other experts across the United States to find ways to advance education for English learners in grades K–12. Our research in this field mainly covers these three areas:
- Assessing the language proficiency of English learners — Our research in this area includes a review of current practices in assessing English proficiency; identifying the essential language skills that English learners need in order to meet the Common Core State Standards; and developing an academic reading comprehension assessment for formative purposes.
- Assessing English learners' content knowledge — In this area, our research focuses on examining content-area assessments (such as mathematics or science) to identify sources of test item difficulty for English learners. Examples of such sources may include cultural references or unnecessary linguistic complexity.
- Teaching English learners — We are conducting research on two aspects of instruction related to English learners: the content and pedagogical knowledge required to teach English learners, and technology-enhanced professional development materials to support teachers of English learners.
In addition to research we undertake on our own initiative, we are leading the IES-funded English Learner Formative Assessment project.
Below are some recent or significant publications that our research professionals have authored related to this topic:
English Language Proficiency Assessments as an Exit Criterion for English Learners
In A. Kunnan (Ed.) The Companion to language assessment (pp. 303–317).
M. K. Wolf & T. Farnsworth (2014)
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell, New York
The chapter focuses on the assessment of English language proficiency (ELP) of English-language learners, and discusses issues in ELP assessment constructs, developing and using ELP assessments for an exit decision, and validation considerations. View citation record >
Including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners in Measures of Educator Effectiveness
N. Jones, H. Buzick, & S. Turkan (2013)
The paper discusses how to account for students with disabilities (SWDs) and English-language learners (ELLs) in the evaluation of mainstream teachers. It gives recommendations for improving the evidence base surrounding the validity of teacher evaluation measures with regard to SWDs and ELLs. View citation record >
Evaluating Growth for ELL Students: Implications for Accountability Policies
J. M. Lakin & J. W. Young (2013).
Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 32(3), 11–26
This paper describes an evaluation of three commonly used growth models, value tables or transition matrices, projection models and student growth percentiles, for English-language learners. View citation record >
A User Study: Technology to Increase Teachers’ Linguistic Awareness to Improve Instructional Language Support for English Language Learners
J. Burstein, J. P. Sabatini, J. R. Shore, B. Moulder, & J. Lentini (2013).
Paper presented at The 2nd Workshop of Natural Language Processing for Improving Textual Accessibility, Atlanta, GA.
This paper discusses user study outcomes with teachers who used a web-based teacher professional development application designed to enhance teachers’ linguistic awareness and support teachers in the development of language-based instructional scaffolding for their English-language learners. View citation record >
Creating a Next-Generation System of K–12 English Learner (EL) Language Proficiency Assessments
M.C. Hauck, M.K. Wolf, and R. Mislevy (2013)
This paper is the first in a series of white papers presenting research-based ideas, principles and recommendations for those who will be conceptualizing and creating the next-generation of English language proficiency (ELP) assessment systems. It reviews the recent history of the current ELP assessment systems that were shaped under the No Child Left Behind Act and provides a high-level vision of what forthcoming ELP assessments should be and do to support K–12 EL students. View citation record >
The Challenge of Assessing Language Proficiency Aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Some Possible Solutions
A. Bailey & M. K. Wolf (2012)
Paper presented at the Understanding Language Conference: Language, Literacy, and Learning in the Content Areas, Stanford, CA.
This paper discusses the challenges of assessing English language proficiency in ways that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards and makes recommendations for developers of the next generation ELP assessments. View citation record >
Differentiated Performance of ELLs on Inquiry Science Items
S. Turkan & L. Liu (2012).
International Journal of Science Education, 34(15), 2343–2369.
This study examines whether students' English-language status has an impact on their inquiry science performance. A differential item functioning (DIF) analysis shows that non-English-language learners (ELLs) significantly outperformed ELLs. View citation record >
The Effects of Glossary and Read-aloud Accommodations on English Language Learners’ Performance on a Mathematics Assessment
M. K. Wolf, J. Kim, & J. Kao (2012)
Applied Measurement in Education, 25(4), 347–374.
This study explores the effects of two accommodations — glossary and read-aloud — on English-language learners’ performance on a mathematics assessment. Results show no significant effect of glossary and mixed effects of read aloud. View citation record >
Exploring ELLs' Understanding of Word Problems in Mathematics Assessments: The Role of Text Complexity and Student Background Knowledge
M. Martiniello & M. K. Wolf (2012)
Chapter in Beyond Good Teaching: Strategies that are Imperative for English Language Learners in the Mathematics Classroom, pp. 151–162
Publisher: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
In this book chapter, the authors explore how teachers can help English learners to overcome the background knowledge and reading comprehension issues that could otherwise impact their academic progress in mathematics. View citation record >
Effective Practices for Developing the Literacy Skills of English Language Learners in the English Language Arts Classroom
S. Turkan, J. Bicknell, & A. Croft (2012)
ETS Research Report No. RR-12-03
This paper is a review of literature presenting instructional strategies — based on normative as well as empirical arguments — which have proven to be effective in envisioning what all teachers need to know and be able to do to teach English language arts (ELA) to English language learners (ELLs). View citation record >
Accommodation Practices for English Language Learners in States' Mathematics Assessments
M. K. Wolf, J. C. Kao, N. M. Rivera, & S. M. Chang (2012)
Teachers College Record, Vol. 114
This article describes a study that investigated two states' accommodation policies for English learners in their Grade 8 math assessments and reports teachers' understanding and perceptions of the accommodation policies and uses. View citation record >
Advancing the Quality and Equity of Education for Latino Students: A White Paper
J. W. Young, J. Lakin, R. Courtney, & M. Martiniello (2012)
ETS Research Report No. RR-12-01
This white paper provides an overview of the issues that affect the quality and equity of education in grades K–16 for Latino students in the United States and highlights the unique challenges Latino students encounter in several transition points in the U.S. educational system. View citation record >
Opportunities for Natural Language Processing Research in Education
J. Burstein (2009)
Chapter in Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Vol. 5449, pp. 6–27
This paper discusses emerging opportunities for natural language processing researchers in the development of educational applications for writing, reading and content knowledge acquisition. View citation record >
Towards Improving Synonym Options in a Text Modification Application
J. Burstein & T. Pedersen (2010)
University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute
Research Report Series Report No. UMSI 2010/165
This paper describes a study that investigated methods of improving the synonym detection feature of the Language Muse™ System that supports classroom teachers in text modification for English learners at the middle- and high-school levels. View citation record >
Linguistic Complexity, Schematic Representations, and Differential Item Functioning for English Language Learners in Math Tests
M. Martiniello (2009)
Educational Assessment, Vol. 14, No. 3–4, pp. 160–179
This article describes a study of nonmathematical linguistic complexity as a source of differential item functioning in a Grade 4 math test and suggests that schematic representations may help English learners better understand the math word problems. View citation record >
Guidelines for the Assessment of English Language Learners
M. J. Pitoniak, J. W. Young, M. Martiniello, T. C. King, A. Buteux, & M. Ginsburgh (2009)
The guidelines in this document are designed to be of use to test developers, testing program administrators, psychometricians and educational agencies as they work to ensure that assessments are fair and valid for English learners. View citation record >
An Investigation of the Language Demands in Content Assessments for English Language Learners
M. K. Wolf & S. Leon (2009)
Educational Assessment, Vol. 14, No. 3–4, pp. 139–159
This article describes a study of the language characteristics of large-scale assessments of mathematics and science. The researchers investigated whether language demands of test items are associated with the degree of differential item functioning for English learners. View citation record >
A Framework for Test Validity Research on Content Assessments Taken by English Language Learners
J. W. Young (2009)
Educational Assessment, Vol. 14, No. 3–4, pp. 122–138
This article describes a conceptual framework for validity research on content assessments taken by English learners in U.S. K–12 schools. The author discusses indicators of test comparability and research needed for evaluating the comparability of content assessments for English learners. View citation record >
Score Comparability for Language Minority Students on the Content Assessments Used by Two States
J. W. Young, S. Holtzman, & J. Steinberg (2011)
ETS Research Report No. RR-11-27
This report describes an investigation of score comparability for English learners on the content assessments in English-language arts and math in two states. A high degree of score comparability was found for both states' content assessments. View citation record >
Examining the Validity of Standards-Based Assessments for Initially Fluent Students and Former English Language Learners
J. W. Young, J. Steinberg, F. Cline, E. Stone, M. Martiniello, G. Ling, & Y. Cho (2010)
Educational Assessment, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 87–106
This article describes a validity study of several standards-based assessments in mathematics and science for students classified as "initially fluent" or as former English learners. Moderate to high degrees of score comparability among these students and native English speakers were observed. View citation record >
Find a Publication
Learn more in this brief interview with Xiaoming Xi, Senior Research Director at ETS (Flash, 3:06).