Study suggests CELDT may over-identify EL students

California's system for evaluating the language skills of incoming kindergartens may be over identifying English learners, according to researchers at the University of California Berkeley.

The problems starts with the way the home language survey is conducted, said Lisa García Bedolla, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education. But perhaps an even bigger issue, she said, is that the California English Language Development Test might be too difficult for young learners.

My contention is that a native English speaking student would have a difficult time passing that test," she said. "Given the length, given how it is administered and given what it is asking students to do."

The study, which has already prompted some follow-up inquiry, could have enormous implications for the state's 1.6 million English learner student population. As the largest such population in the nation and about a quarter of all K-12 students in California, English learners have traditionally posed a significant challenge to educators both in terms of classroom performance and fiscal services.

The quantitative part of the study is based on the 134 districts in the state of California who have student populations of 20 percent or more English learners and tested more than 50 students in the 2009-10 academic year. The 37 districts provided in-depth information about how they use the Home Language Survey and CELDT results.

The home language survey, based on a template provided by the California Department of Education, calls on parents to answer four basic questions about what languages are used at home.

The researchers found that parents who answered any of the four questions with a reference to languages other than English almost always triggered the administration of the CELDT test to the child.

The test, which can take as long as two hours to take, has proved extremely difficult to pass - only about 12 percent of the students are successful.

And once identified as an English learner in kindergarten, a child cannot be reclassified until the third grade.

As a result, the study suggests, misclassified students are receiving four years of inappropriate language education - drawing services away from students who need them.

The CELDT is scheduled for revision in 2013 and Bedolla has recommended that lawmakers and education officials consider the structure and administration of the system. She said that the CDE should also revisit the use of the home language survey as the sole trigger for the CELDT and consider alternatives that take into account bilingual households.

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