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Dist. 203 tests could provide language challenges
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/24/2008 12:08 AM

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When it comes to administering standardized tests to students this spring, Naperville Unit District 203 officials are facing a multiple choice problem of their own.

Students who speak limited English will not be able to take an adapted test as they have in past years. And while the state is making some accommodations for such students, help won't be available to all.

English Language Learner students typically take the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English test, which uses more simplistic language, shorter sentences and visuals.

"The type of questions and rigor of question doesn't change, but the presentation of the material is so that the language … becomes less of a barrier," said Dave Chiszar, director of assessment and quality.

However, the federal government now says that test does not meet its standards. So for the next couple of years, while the state tries to make improvements, students will take the same test as native English speakers.

Chiszar said doing so is going to put students in a difficult situation and will not be a true measurement of what they know.

"Kids are going to struggle simply to understand the test," he said.

To help these students, the state will provide a glossary of "non-content-based words." But such accommodations will only be available in 10 languages, although dozens more languages are spoken in the district.

That leaves District 203, and many others across the state, in a Catch-22, Chiszar said.

The district can:

A) provide accommodations for some students while leaving others to fend for themselves or

B) not provide assistance to anyone in an effort to keep things equal for all.

Districts in DuPage County already have asked the state for an option C -- joining together to create additional translations -- but were turned down.

Chiszar said there doesn't seem to be one right answer in this scenario, but the district will likely administer the glossaries to as many students as possible, understanding that will mean leaving some students out.

The state also plans to have translations of the test rules available in 10 languages, but this too presents a problem because the test administrator would have to be a certified instructor who speaks that language.

Despite the changes in testing, the district still will be held accountable to the state and federal government for its test scores under No Child Left Behind and could face sanctions from each if schools fail to meet standards.

Students in grades three through eight will take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test March 3-12, and high school juniors take the Prairie State Achievement Exam April 23-24.