A Vision for Using an Argument-Based Framework for Validity Applied to a Comprehensive System of Assessments for English Learners in Secondary Grades
By Margaret Heritage, Caroline Wylie, Molly Faulkner-Bond, and Aída Walqui
Part 1: The Problem that the CAS Framework is Aiming to Address
In the United States, over one third (34.7%) of all English Learners are enrolled in the secondary grades (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2018). Two thirds of secondary English Learners (65 percent) have been schooled entirely in the United States (NCES, 2018) and are often labeled “long-term,” a reference to the length of time they have been enrolled in school — more than six years — without meeting their state’s achievement standards to be reclassified out of the English Learner subgroup. Labels can be damaging (e.g., Brooks, 2018; Kibler & Valdés, 2016; Paris, 2012; Rosa, 2019; Umansky & Dumont, 2021) and potentially lead to negative consequences for students. For instance, based on the mistaken belief that English proficiency is a necessary precondition to engage in rigorous grade-level learning, students classified as English Learners often do not have access to the core curriculum and demanding learning opportunities (Callahan & Shifrer, 2016; Glick & Walqui, 2021; Johnson, 2019) and are frequently excluded from grade-level content courses altogether (Umansky, 2016). Assessment data reveal the adverse impact of this domino effect of lost opportunities. For example, data from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show a difference of 33 percentage points in reading proficiency between nonEnglish Learners and students currently labeled as English Learners in eighth grade (38 percent non-English Learners versus 5 percent) and a difference of 30 percentage points in mathematics (36 percent non-English Learners versus 6 percent EL) (NCES, 2018). As a consequence, their performance on other indicators such as ACT participation and postsecondary enrollment is adversely impacted (Carlson & Knowles, 2016). The magnitude of this achievement lag is untenable from the perspective of educational equity.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), educational equity has two dimensions: fairness and inclusion (OECD, 2012). Fairness means ensuring that personal and social circumstances — for instance, gender, socioeconomic status, and language status — are not obstacles to educational achievement. Inclusion means setting a basic minimum standard for education that is shared by all students, irrespective of background or personal characteristics. In this regard, teachers and administrators are responsible for ensuring that all students in the United States meet the achievement standards that have been adopted by each state and have equitable learning opportunities in order to reach them.
To this end, it is essential that English Learners have access to, and engagement with, challenging and rigorous content learning that is required to meet state standards and that teaching and learning support both high levels of content and analytic learning and the development of language resources needed to learn that content. Realizing equity requires understanding each student’s needs and designing learning experiences that will help all English Learners — and all means each one — to achieve success. Assessment must play its part in providing information that will support educators to engage in ongoing practices that are likely to lead to positive outcomes for every English Learner. Since the CAS Framework has individual variations built into the design and interpretation, it is intended for use with all English Learners in all settings.
In the next section, the perspective on language development that underpins the CAS Framework’s approach to assessment system design and evaluation is discussed.