The issues of immigration affect the linguistic policies of the most popular destinations of newcomers, the US and Canada. The article of Fairbairn and Fox (2009) explores a great number of implications for the state agencies responsible for the formation of education curricula, assessment tools, and formulation of standards according to which the outcomes of learning are assessed.
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The main focus of the article is drawn upon the specificity of ELLs (English language learners) both in Canada and the USA. The authors state that there are a number of challenges for both countries in educational terms, though they have completely different approaches to facing educational challenges (Fairbairn & Fox, 2009).
There is much valuable information for considering the challenges ELLs face within the framework of the state educational policies and assessment techniques applied both in Canada and the USA. The state policies foster the homogeneous, standardized approach to testing and measuring outcomes of studies, while the ELLs are a highly dynamic and heterogeneous group of learners. The immigrants come from various backgrounds, and their socio-cultural specificity is always the decisive factor in the field of retaining academic information.
Hence, Fairbairn and Fox (2009) indicate that the main consequences of the unified approach and ignoring the uniqueness of numerous ELL groups in the Canadian and American schools include: ELLs’ underperformance, high levels of drop-outs, little chance to retain good statistics of learning progress for schools with a high percentage of ELLs, the misleading effect of test outcomes, as well as the individual ones such as the low levels of self-esteem of ELLs who fall behind the mainstream category of students.
The reality is adequately reflected in the article of Fairbairn and Fox (2009): while much attention is paid to the student achievement, the tests absolutely not appropriated for measuring the academic knowledge and skills of ELLs.
There are two sets of activities that should be undertaken on the state and provincial level to increase the ability of states to meet the heterogeneity of ELLs’ needs. They are designed for test developers and decision-makers, and focus on the specific areas of their responsibilities and powers that can be enacted to improve the situation with testing standards for ELLs.
As for the implications for test developers, one has to pay attention to such recommendations as including graphic/visual support, adjusting the test development process to include practical experience of teachers in the classroom regarding the needs of ELLs, and using plain language for testing design (Fairbairn & Fox, 2009). Until the centrality of a test taker is recognized, no stakeholder in the educational process will be able to make the educational process compliant with the testing outcomes.
It is clear that tests are detached from the everyday reality in the classroom, which is easy for native speakers to cope with because of the sufficient volume of background knowledge in English, but which can become a real challenge for ELLs reducing their testing scores. Continuation of research and development of appropriate test support also appear essential on the way to successful inclusion of ELLs in the Canadian and American educational context.
As for decision-makers in Canada and the USA, one should note the necessity to recognize texture within ELL population (as the only way to enhance the categorization thereof), and to write clear and appropriate ELL assessment policies (Fairbairn & Fox, 2009). Recognition of ELL uniqueness is the first step for the appropriate legal action towards the policy of inclusion.
Further on, the inclusion of ELL-specific requirements in requests for proposals should be implemented throughout the testing process, since the expertise of teachers working with ELLs must be put to the fore in the policy formation regarding this issue (Fairbairn & Fox, 2009).
Appropriate assignment of accommodations, proper scoring and interpretation of results for ELL testing are an urgent necessity to ensure the provision of adequate attention to the educational needs of ELLs and their further progress in English language learning outcomes.