A teacher wrote this comment in response to a post asking why English language learners, who barely know any English, are required to take the state English test.
I agree, it is painful to watch our English Language Learners struggle with these ridiculous tests, tests which label students 1,2,3,or 4. I have worked with refugees, many of whom arrive with little or no formal education, for over 20 years in what I consider to be one of the best schools in Buffalo. They, like all students, are much more than 1,2,3 or 4. The kids are remarkable in how they adjust to the cultural, academic, and linguistic demands of school. Their families are supportive and very appreciative of the what the school does to help them and their children. The staff is incredibly dedicated and rallies our school community to help provide many of the basics for our students’ and their families – clothes, food, boots, household items, books, school supplies, etc.
We have over thirty languages represented among our students, most are considered “low incidence languages” such as Burmese, Karen, Nepali, Somali, MaiMai, Karenni, Chin, Turkish, Kinyarwanda, and the list goes on… Some of our classrooms are over 70% ELL – English Language Learners. Of those non-ELLs in our school, many were English Language Learners who have tested proficient in years past or they come from homes of English Language Learners. The teachers are tuned in to the academic and language needs of these kids and provide safe, supportive, engaging, yet demanding environments for these students to learn and grow. There is not a teacher there who would trade a student in front of them for more “4′s.”
These immigrants have added to a culturally rich community, and have introduced their neighbors to amazing and interesting food, art, music, and traditions. Many of the students go on to great success in high school and beyond. Each June, when the local paper publishes pictures of all the local high school valedictorians and salutatorians, our former students are among them, English Language Learners who with enough time and support achieve great success. The operative word there is time.
Most research suggests that it takes 5-7 years (minimum) for English Language Learners to reach academic language proficiency – and that is for students with formal education in their first language. For all the “data” rage, it amazes me that this fact continues to be ignored by policy makers.
What does the state say? New York State labeled us a “PLA – Persistently Lowest Achieving” school in the first round of PLA schools. Why? Because we didn’t make AYP in ELA for our English Language Learners. Based on what? The N.Y. State tests.
Isn’t that obvious? The tests are used to label our kids as failing, our schools as low achieving, and our teachers as ineffective.