English Learners Left Behind: Standardized Testing as Language Policy
Author: Kate Menken
In the wake of recent federal legislation entitled No Child Left Behind, high-stakes standardized testing for accountability purposes is being emphasized in educational systems across the U.S. for all students – including English Language Learners (ELLs). Yet language proficiency mediates test performance, so ELLs typically receive scores far below those of other students. This book explores how tests have become de facto language policy in schools, shaping what is taught in school, how it is taught, and in what language(s) it is taught. In New York City, while most schools responded to testing by increasing the amount of English instruction offered to ELLs, a few schools have preserved native language instruction instead. Moreover, this research documents how tests are a defining force in the daily lives of ELLs and the educators who serve them.
Educating students who speak languages other than those recognized by school authorities is a most important issue. As the students' linguistic diversity has increased, educational authorities around the world have instituted high-stakes assessments that in effect push out language minority students. But there are few accounts of the effects of these assessments in the lives of students and their teachers. Menken's book is an exception. Written in elegant prose and with an abudance of scholarly data, Menken brings to light the tensions between top-down assessment policies and the ways in which teachers, as well as students, negotiate them. Focusing on the U.S. context, this important book is of relevance to anyone thinking about the relationship between school assessment and educational processes and practices throughout the world.
English Learners Left Behind is an outstanding, albeit troubling, study of how language policy is made in the surreal world of American education. As the first scholar to exhaustively document the pernicious effects of high-stakes testing for ELL students, Kate Menken has performed an invaluable service for both children and educators. All U.S. politicians should be required to read her book – and pass a test on it – before voting on misguided legislation like No Child Left Behind.
Kate Menken is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY), and a Research Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in an Urban Society at the CUNY Graduate Center. Previously, she was a teacher of English as a second language.
PART I: Language Policy Context
2. Language Policy, Federal Education Legislation, and English Language Learners in the United States
3. The New York Case: The Local Implementation of a National Policy
PART II: Standardized Tests in Daily School Life
4. Tongue-Tied: The Linguistic Challenges that Standardized Tests Pose for English Language Learners
5. The Ones Left Behind: How High-Stakes Tests Impact the Lives and Schooling Experiences of ELL Students
6. "Teaching to the Test" as Language Policy: The Focus on Test Preparation in Curriculum and Instruction for ELLs
PART III: Expansion & Recommendations
7. Higher Expectations vs. Language as Liability: Why the Drawbacks of Accountability Outweigh the Benefits for English Language Learners
8. High-Stakes Testing and Language Un-Planning: Theoretical Implications of Testing as Language Policy
9. Moving Forward: Embracing Multilingual Language Policies from the Top-Down to the Bottom-Up