The Language Policy of Placement Tests for Newcomer English Learners

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U.S. public schools are required to establish policies ensuring that English language learners have equal access to “meaningful education.” This demands that districts put into place mechanisms to determine student eligibility for specialized English language services. For the most states, this federal requirement is fulfilled through the local administration of the WIDA–Access Placement Test (W-APT), arguably the most widely used, yet under-studied, English language assessment in the country. Through intensive participant observation at one, urban new student intake center, and detailed qualitative, discursive analysis of test administration and interaction, we demonstrate how the W-APT works as a high-stakes assessment, screener, and sorter, and how test takers and test administrators locally negotiate this test and enact this federal and state policy. Our analysis indicates that the W-APT is problematic in several respects, most importantly because the test does not differentiate adequately across students with widely different literacy skills and formal schooling experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)936-968
Number of pages33
JournalEducational Policy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2016.


  • ESL
  • English as a second language
  • English language learners
  • World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA)
  • newcomers
  • test


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