Starting next year, English-language learners will have to take the same achievement test as their English-speaking peers.

The move, forced by the federal government’s rejection of the test the state had been using to assess English learners, has educators worried.

Minerva Garcia-Sanchez, deputy director of the Office of Language and Cultural Education, is incredulous. “It is hard enough for native English speakers to do well on the ISAT. I am worried about how a student who just came to the country a year ago will do,” she says.

The U.S. Department of Education ruled recently that the state would have to change the IMAGE (Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English). State officials then announced that they will develop a new test, but that meanwhile, English learners would have to take the ISAT.

Many principals quibbled with the IMAGE because it is in English, although the language is simpler than on the state’s regular tests and more pictures and graphics are used. No Child Left Behind allows states to develop tests in students’ native language, but Illinois has as yet not done so.

This fall, a group of CPS principals concerned about the IMAGE test lobbied the district and won an amendment to the promotion policy: English learners who fall short of meeting standards in benchmark grades will still be promoted if they have good grades and attendance, although they will have to go to summer school.

Linda Salinas, principal of Hammond School in South Lawndale, says that as soon as students understand English well enough to do better on the IMAGE, they are on their way out of bilingual education. Occasionally, Salinas has seen good students fail to pass achievement tests because they are focused on learning English.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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