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August 10th, 2020

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, in order for English learners (ELs) to qualify for special education services, schools must make every effort to assess this population not only in English, but also in their native language. While this is more or less a requirement for ELs suspected of having a disability, it is nevertheless a sound practice to periodically conduct oral and written language proficiency assessments in students’ native languages.

In fact, this is a common practice in many schools with formal bilingual programming, and Hamayan and colleagues recommends for this to occur on at least an annual basis (2013). Not only is it valuable to have information on students’ oral and written proficiency with both languages, but it also provides schools with the opportunity to show how much they value the home language and its relationship to becoming proficient in English.

Keep reading to learn why educators should assess English learners in both their native language and target language and what educators can glean from this data.

Why and How Educators Use Assessments Across Multiple Languages for English Learners

There are several reasons why educators use assessments across multiple languages, ranging from achieving a greater understanding of students’ language proficiency levels or content knowledge to accurately classifying a child as having a disability. Let’s take a look at each of these reasons with related scenarios.

Using Assessment to Determine Content Knowledge in Native Languages


Marco is a sixth-grader who arrives at a K-8 school from El Salvador with his father. Based on a home language survey and a brief family history conducted by the school’s family liaison, it is clear that Marco’s mother is still in El Salvador, and the EL teacher suspects that Marco may have limited prior schooling there.

Since the school has a high Spanish-speaking population, there are several licensed staff members who speak Spanish. To better understand Marco’s literacy skills in his native language, one of the Spanish-speaking staff members assesses Marco with the  CBMreading Spanish  measure.

The results indicate that Marco is performing well below grade level in terms of reading fluency, which allows staff to predict that his comprehension of grade-level text will also be low. The staff members decide that assessing Marco on the Grade 6 form of CBMreading English is inappropriate, given that Marco is not performing on grade level in his home language in reading.

Based on Marco’s data, it seems like there may be some underlying concerns with sight words and decoding in Spanish. The Spanish-speaking staff member uses  earlyReading Spanish  subtests to confirm this need: earlyReading Spanish – Decodable Words and earlyReading Spanish – Sight Words. These are definite areas of need for Marco, which will have a significant impact on his English language acquisition.

This is helpful information for the EL teacher because now she knows that Marco doesn’t have a strong literacy foundation in his home language. His English language acquisition may be slower than some of his peers who have a strong foundation in this area. The EL teacher plans to keep a close eye on Marco’s progress; she will also pay attention to how he interacts socially with Spanish-speaking peers.


Kristina is a newcomer to the English language, and her native language is Spanish. She attended school in Mexico through grade 9, and now she is at the District Enrollment Center to determine her high school placement. The enrollment staff members need to predict how successful she will be in a mainstream high school, and whether placement in a specialized high school for ELs would be more appropriate.

In addition to an English language proficiency placement test, the staff has her complete several academic achievement tests, including CBMreading Spanish, using the Grade 6 form. She performs quite well on this assessment, so she moves onto taking a science exam in Spanish since the curriculum the district uses has this resource. After a few other academic achievement tests in Spanish, it is clear to the enrollment staff that Kristina has deep content knowledge and Spanish language proficiency; her focus for learning will primarily be on English language acquisition.

As a result of her strong academic background in her home language, Kristina is enrolled in a traditional high school rather than the specialized high school for ELs. The teachers at the traditional high school will need to intentionally make use of Kristina’s home language in their instruction for her to experience success in quickly acquiring academic English.  

Using Assessment to Determine English Language Proficiency


Anthony is a native English speaker participating in an immersion program at his school, with the goal of becoming fully bilingual in Spanish. He is in third grade and has been learning in both English and Spanish since kindergarten. All of his literacy instruction has been in Spanish, but he has learned math, science, and social studies in both English and Spanish through the teacher’s use of alternating units by language.

Anthony’s parents are curious about his reading achievement in English because he will be taking a state-mandated reading assessment this school year, and they are a bit worried about how he will perform. Anthony’s school is accustomed to hearing this concern since many of their families don’t fully understand second language acquisition. For this and several other reasons, they always test their students at least once per year in both English and Spanish. In kindergarten and grade 1, the school uses earlyReading English and earlyReading Spanish. In grades 2 and up, students are assessed using curriculum-based measures (CBM): CBMreading English and CBMreading Spanish.

Upon examination of Anthony’s CBMreading scores, it becomes evident that Anthony is scoring at low risk in Spanish and at some risk in English. As a result of these score differences, the school makes a plan to monitor Anthony’s skills in English reading fluency by administering CBMreading English every other week. Anthony’s teacher will review the data with the family and provide regular updates on his progress.

Using Assessment to Identify English Learners Eligibility for Special Education


Larisa is a fourth-grader who is struggling with reading. She is classified as an English learner but was born in the United States. Due to her history of low performance and some alarming reading behaviors, her classroom teacher and the interventionist suspect that Larisa may have a learning disability. The school has already screened Larisa and her peers using FASTtrack Reading, and they have been progress monitoring Larisa for quite some time with CBMreading English.

Since Larisa’s classroom teacher and interventionist have been providing interventions and monitoring her progress, the special education staff is now involved. They notice that Larisa’s home language is Spanish, but she hasn’t been screened with CBMreading Spanish. To determine whether a disability exists, the special education staff will need to determine whether Larisa exhibits similar reading behaviors in both English and Spanish. If the reading difficulties only exist in English, but not in Spanish, then Larisa will need more support in acquiring the English language. If the difficulties exist in both languages, then Larisa may be eligible for special education services.

FastBridge Assessment Measures Across Multiple Languages

Educators use assessments across multiple languages for a variety of reasons. While there are distinct ways assessment does differ for English learners, educators will glean more information about their students’ skill level in their home language, and others need this information to determine whether a disability exists per ESSA (2015). By regularly assessing students in their native language, schools can strengthen their partnerships with families by demonstrating how much they value the home language and its relationship to becoming proficient in English.

Scholars familiar with MTSS and ELs recommend that schools conduct oral and written language proficiency assessments in students’ native languages at least annually (Hamayan et al, 2013). FastBridge can support educators of Spanish-speaking students to do that through the use of early literacy (earlyReading) and reading fluency (CBMreading) measures in English and Spanish. All of these measures are teacher-administered in a one-on-one format, and Spanish measures should only be administered by educators who are fluent in Spanish. It is important to note that the Spanish measures are not direct translations of the English assessments; rather, they follow a research-based developmental progression of how children acquire literacy skills in Spanish. Both earlyReading Spanish and CBMreading Spanish are excellent predictors of learners’ overall reading achievement.

Contact us to learn more about using FastBridge to support ELs and English-speaking students alike.

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Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, Public Law No. 114-95, S.1177, 114th Cong. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.congress. gov/114/plaws/publ95/PLAW-114publ95.pdf.

Hamayan, E. V., Marler, B., López Cristina Sánchez, & Damico, J. (2013).  Special education considerations for English language learners: delivering a continuum of services  (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Caslon Publishing.

Gottlieb, M. (2006).  Assessing English language learners: bridges from language proficiency to academic achievement . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

WIDA Consortium. (2013). Developing a culturally and linguistically responsive approach to response to instruction and intervention (RtI2 ) for English language learners [PDF]. Retrieved from




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