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Bilingual Education and Standardized Testing

E. Fuentes/ D. Sanford

For the past three decades, it has been the intent of the Bilingual Education Program to allow Limited English Proficient students to become academically proficient in the core subject areas while simultaneously acquiring a second language (English). Arguments for and against bilingual education theory have persisted since the inception of the program with both sides providing countless studies that favorably support both points of view. Rather than become part of this heated debate, we as educators, decided to use our own classroom observations as to the academic development of the students in ESL and Bilingual Programs and create a program that would benefit this population of students.

The Problems:

Bilingual Education students have traditionally scored lower on standardized test; however, we believe that the cause of the weakness in standardized scores does not rest with Bilingual Education theory, but rather with factors that are unique to the characteristics of the students that are in the Bilingual Education Program. The following are some examples of some of the most important factors that are at play with this population of students.

1. The population of students in bilingual education programs is not constant. When students become proficient in their native language, that is, they begin to pass their standardized test in their native language, they are exited from the bilingual program and placed in a regular or ESL program where they will begin to take English standardized test. Although this is what the bilingual program is designed to do, the students that do not become academically proficient are kept in the bilingual program, hence resulting in lower standardized scores for that group of students (the non-passers). The successful exited students, who were once part of the bilingual program, do not show up in bilingual test statistics because they are merged with the monolingual students in regular or ESL classes.

2. Students in the bilingual program are generally less proficient in their home language than their counterparts in regular education programs. Socioeconomic factors, the level of their parent's education and the amount of quality time spent interacting with their parents are some of the factors that hinder their linguistic development at home. The students' comprehension and their ability to acquire new information are greatly affected by their lack of vocabulary and their limited linguistic experience. Standardized tests are difficult for them not so much because the objectives tested are too difficult, but because they simply do not understand the meaning of the words that make up the passages.

3. There is an abundance of educational material in English for teachers in regular education programs; however, there is little material for teachers in bilingual education. This factor is very important because as the more successful students are transitioned into the regular program, the students remaining (non-passers) have little material to work with. When considering time constraints in the educational day, bilingual teachers have to spend additional hours in the preparation of materials and lessons for their students. The teachers who have to work additional hours in the preparation of materials will possibly have less energy for classroom instruction.

4. Immigration and migration of students are also big factors. Because students in the bilingual programs are more predisposed to migration, it is difficult for them to benefit from a constant teaching methodology. That is, if a migrant student moves mid-semester from Michigan to Texas, it is difficult to know, much less replicate, the curriculum and methodology that the student was exposed to in that state. When the students take the standardized test of the visiting state, it is likely that the curriculum might be different and that is usually detrimental to the test score.

5. Because the number of students in bilingual education program exceeds the number of qualified teachers, districts are many times forced to compensate by using other programs that may not be based on bilingual education theories and experiment with methodologies that might not be helpful to the students taking the standardized tests. In some cases, students are moved from all English programs to bilingual education programs and then to ESL programs with no consistency; this will ultimately result in a very confused student that has to pass a standardized test but will not be proficient in either language.


 To address many of the problems mentioned, Bilingual Education Specialists developed the following solutions:

  • Interactive Internet-based materials that are printable and easy for teachers to use and access.

  • Hypertext vocabulary connected to an online dictionary that can be accessed as the students read the passages.

  • Interactive student assessment that allows teachers to spend time teaching and not grading papers.

  • On-line Math, Reading, and Writing tests via the Internet that are formatted in standardized form.

 While bilingual education programs have been frayed in California and Arizona (probably and understandably because of low academic performance), we are confident that bilingual education theory is based on sound principles and can yield highly proficient students that will ultimately have the ability to read, write and speak fluently in two languages. A skill that will obviously be of great value to these students since they will eventually become contributing members to the multicultural world we live in.

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