Recently, we blogged about assessment data representing a whole class of diverse learners—including Spanish-speaking students. We asked the question, “Do your current assessments let Spanish speakers fully show what they know?” We have been exploring the answer with two former teachers who are now here at NWEA, working on the challenge of how to fill a possible gap in knowledge for teachers today.
Both members of our Content Solutions Team (the test creators), Adam Withycombe, DEd., is the Manager of Assessment Products, and Teresa Krastel, PhD, is the Spanish Solution Lead. Adam started his teaching career as a bilingual teacher in 3rd and 5th grades. Teresa began her career as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and taught Spanish at all levels from 7th through 12th grade, as well as at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Both are familiar with the challenges teachers face in truly understanding what their students know and can do.
What are some of the challenges in creating a rigorous assessment for Spanish-speaking students?
Adam: Building any type of assessment is a challenge that starts with defining the purpose and claims that the assessment supports. For MAP Growth, that means building a tool that accurately measures academic performance and growth across multiple grades and time periods. We do that through an adaptive test design supported by a robust pool of items.
When developing a Spanish version of MAP Growth, we started with the requirements that the Spanish test meets the same purpose, structure, and claims as the English version, while also addressing the constructs unique to Spanish.
Teresa: For reading, it is necessary to address the inherent differences in how children from both language backgrounds learn to read. We believe these differences are accounted for in our MAP Reading Fluency and MAP Growth K-2 tests, where the skills and concepts differ most between the two languages on the path to literacy. As students progress and grow, reading concepts become more similar across languages. This theoretical foundation is certainly evident in the way we designed our tests.
Why can’t English assessments simply be translated?
Teresa: In some instances, it is possible to translate an assessment item from one language to another. This is most common in the context of math, where the content is the same regardless of the language of instruction. Math is often called a “universal language” for this reason. In other cases, a particular skill might be relevant in multiple languages, but linguistic or cultural differences make translation problematic.
For this kind of situation, a test item in one language can be used as the base for assessing the same skill in a second language, but the wording is adapted (a process called transadaptation) for cultural differences, parallel structure, and improved clarity. For our MAP Growth Math assessments, that has certainly been the case because of the concept to concept matches across languages. In our MAP Growth Reading solutions, however, there are greater differences that we address by new item development.
Adam: In reading more so than in math, it’s possible that a skill or concept that is essential in one language does not apply in the same way or to the same extent in another. In those cases, translation or transadaptation are not appropriate, and development of an entirely new test item is required. We take all three of these scenarios into account when creating items for our Spanish item pools at NWEA.
What do you hope is the outcome for teachers and students of having data from a test given in the student’s native Spanish language?
Adam: For students, we hope the data will provide them with more opportunities to show what they know, without any barriers that language proficiency might influence.
For teachers, these data would provide more information about students in the class to help them address questions they may have, such as:
- How are my students doing?
- Where are my students on their path to academic achievement—in Spanish, English, or both?
- How can I support each student in a meaningful way?
- What specific instructional actions can I take to support my students’ growth?
- Where are the opportunities for scaffolding and enrichment?
- How can I determine if the student needs grade-level content with language support versus foundational instruction in the content?
This information can be the bridge to instructional next steps, to help teachers make informed decisions for classroom instruction.
Teresa: We hope that the data can inform instruction at the program level, as well, with information that is applicable to different instructional contexts and answering questions relevant to the teacher, principal, and other stakeholders. For teachers focusing on English instruction, we hope that Spanish assessments provide a data point for students new to the school, or for those students who do not have enough English proficiency to meaningfully participate in an English assessment. For teachers in dual language or bilingual settings, Spanish assessments would provide an authentic assessment of academic content in the language of instruction. Regardless of the programming focus, we think Spanish offerings would add value to any thoughtful assessment system.
How do you think this developing work ties to the NWEA mission of Partnering to help all kids learn?
Adam: This work ties to the strong belief here at NWEA that ALL students should be able to demonstrate what they know and can do. With this comes the recognition that academic achievement does not pertain to any one, specific language. Additionally, Spanish offerings would provide the access and fairness in testing to a large group of students in order to help educators understand and address achievement gaps that are not necessarily attributed to language factors alone.
Thanks to Adam and Teresa for their contributions to our conversation on providing better and more inclusive measures of students and their learning! Stay tuned to the blog for exciting news about Spanish assessments.