Former Educator Talks Standardized Tests and Challenges for Refugee Students

Oct 21, 2019

Skip Cleavinger
Credit Becca Schimmel

The former director for English Language Learning programs in Warren County said standardized tests aren’t appropriate for many refugees and immigrants, because there’s cultural bias inherent in the tests. 

Skip Cleavinger said one of the biggest challenges for refugee and immigrant students is that they’re expected to perform at the same level as their peers on standardized tests within a year of arriving at the school. 

“One of the primary things is that these standardized tests tend to use more difficult language than is necessary to measure math or reading ability.”


Cleavinger said students who are non-native English speakers often score poorly on tests, and it’s unclear to administrators whether the student didn’t do well because of a lack of ability, or because of the language barrier.

The retired Warren County educator said he understands the concerns of local superintendents who say they’re overwhelmed by the number of refugee and immigrant students. But Cleavinger said there are resources available in the community to help.

He said it’s not just school personnel who are under pressure to perform well on standardized tests, students who are struggling to learn English feel it, too.

“It’s a challenge, the kids really internalize that challenge as well. It’s not just the schools that wring their hands over it. The kids really worry about it because they want to do well.”

Listen to the full interview by clicking the player at the top of the page.