This is a account written by Lindsay Allanbrook, a teacher in New York City. Last year, when the first Common Core tests were given, 97% of English language learners failed the test of English language. What is the point of testing these children in a language they have not mastered?
State Tests and Our Newest Arrivals, by Lindsay Allanbrook
It’s that time of year again, testing season. That time of year, right
before the test, when nothing is making sense. Even my own teaching
makes no sense. In the morning, I am able to find some time for Social
Studies. We analyze the Gary Paulsen book Nightjohn. We zoom in on
moments that show resistance to slavery. We create tableaux with our
bodies and then use art to represent those moments. It is exciting and
inspiring work. We are learning what it means to resist what is wrong and
to stand up for what is right.
Then in the afternoon we must sit quietly at our desks and work on
our testing stamina. We must read texts that make no sense and try to
answer questions, which trick us. Why are we doing this? Is this what is
Although there is a lot that I could write related to the struggles of
testing season in my fifth grade dual language classroom, for now I just
want to tell the testing stories of four of my students: Marisa, Jose, David,
These are my four “newcomers”, students who have recently
arrived to the United States from other countries. Marisa came from Peru
last April. Jose joined us from the Dominican Republic in December. David
was in the US in third grade. He was at our school for a year and then he
returned to Guatemala. In January, his family was back in New York and
he joined our class. Natalia came here last spring; she spent two months
in 4th grade and then returned to Ecuador. A week ago, Natalia’s family
once again came to New York and she is now in my class.
I consider these four students to be lucky. They are lucky because
they are able to attend a dual language school where they receive half of
their instruction in Spanish and half in English. They are able to learn
grade level content in Spanish without being hindered by their lack of
English proficiency. They are all working hard and making tremendous
growth, week by week. Although they are diligent, intelligent students, all
four of them are behind in most areas of the curriculum. They struggle to
follow our rigorous 5th grade Common Core based Math curriculum because
none of them had the necessary foundational instruction. Even so, all four
of them will be required to take the 5th grade Common Core State Math
Test at the end of April. At least, they will be able to do it in Spanish and
they will try their best to answer the few questions that they understand.
I knew when David entered my class that he would also be required
to take the 5th grade Common Core English Language Arts Test. David was
in the US for a year and a half before returning to Guatemala. According
to No Child Left Behind, students may only be exempt from the State ELA
Assessment for their first year in the country.
Although I understood that
David would be required to take the test, I knew it was unfair. David is a
strong reader in Spanish, yet he is a timid boy who spent a year and a half
in a foreign country (the United States), returned to his home in
Guatemala for a year and then recently came back to the United States.
He is still struggling to re-acclimate to school in the US.
Marisa arrived a week after the 2013 ELA test. At first, we thought
Marisa was lucky. She started in our school right after last year’s test, and
therefore, we thought that she would not have been in the country for a
year when this year’s test rolled around and we believed that she would be
exempt from the test. We soon learned we were wrong. Even though
Marisa entered the school less than 12 months ago, because she entered
during the month of April, she is considered to be here 12 months. In
other words, even though she was only in the school for the last week of
April, it counts as one whole month and she is required to take the test.
I was surprised and upset when I found out that Marisa would be
required to take the ELA test, but Natalia’s situation shocked me even
more. When Natalia recently returned to our school, I was sure that she
would be exempt from the test. Natalia had only been in the US for 2
months. Students may be exempt from the test for their first year in the
country, but there is a catch. According to No Child Left Behind, students
may only be exempt from one administration of the test.
The two months that Natalia was here last year happened to fall during the testing season.
Since she was exempt from the ELA test last year, she cannot be exempt
from the test again this year.
Out of my four newcomers, Jose is the only one who is exempt from
the ELA test this year. He came to the US in December (less than a year
ago) and he has never been exempt from the test in previous years. Of
course, next year he will have to take the test.
While we work on test prep, Marisa, Jose, David and Natalia practice
their English reading on the computer. You might think some of my
students would think it was unfair that these students are not being forced
to do test prep or that Jose does not have to take the test at all. But it
seems that my students have a deeper understanding of what is fair and
unfair. When a student overheard me talking to David and realized that
David would have to take the test, he was outraged. “Does he get to take
it in Spanish?” he asked. I told him David would have to take the test in
English. “But that’s not fair!” he said in shock.
Not only is it not fair, it simply doesn’t make sense. And of course,
no matter how much we do in the next few weeks, there is no way, we can
ensure that these children will pass. They couldn’t possibly and nor could
any one of us if we were required to move to another country and take a
reading test in a language other than English after just one year. These
children’s test scores will cause people to express concern over the low
performance of English language learners instead of causing them to ask
the more obvious question, which is, “Why, why did they have to take this