Unfortunately for English language learners, educational policymakers seem to believe that whatever is good for one group, is good for all groups. In their article, La Celle-Peterson and Rivera (1994) outline the challenges facing ELLs as a learning (and testing) population and some of the systematic changes that need to take place in order to ensure that these students are being equitably taught and assessed.
The authors first point out that though ESL students can and do learn in accordance with high standards, their accomplishments are often overlooked or underestimated when they are assessed in the same way as the native peers. The first step to correcting this problem is to ensure that students are assessed with the whole learning experience of the English language learner in mind (La Celle-Peterson and Rivera, 1994, p.2). Many policymakers also mistakenly assume that what is right for one English language learner (ELL) is right for all ELLs. This is simply not the case because the population of ELLs in the United States is linguistically and culturally diverse, and these differences must also be recognized when creating equitable, authentic assessments (La Celle-Peterson and Rivera, 1994, pp.4-5).
Furthermore, because their achievements are consistently underestimated, ELLs are often tracked into technical or non-college preparatory tracks, thus not receiving the same opportunity for learning as their native peers. In order for education and assessment to be equitable for ELLs, they need to be provided with access to classes that teach challenging content in a comprehensible manner (La Celle-Peterson and Rivera, 1994, p. 5).
It is clear that in order for our ESL students to be academically successful, the need to be given the same access to high standards of learning and teaching that their native peers are given. For this to happen, a systematic change needs to take place. But, as advocates for our students, it is our job to speak up for them and begin a movement for equitable education at the classroom level. System-wide implementation is only successful when classroom-level implementation begins. Furthermore, we as ESL teachers need to be aware of the educational policies in place, and the effects they have on our students.
La Celle-Peterson, M. and Rivera, C. (1994). Is it real for all Kids? A Framework for Equitable
Assessment Policies for English Language Learners. Harvard Educational Review, 64,