Miss-Spellings

As an update to a previous post, TeacherJay wanted to take a moment to point out Thursday’s NY Times article in which Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings seems less than enthusiastic about the drafts of the re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act being passed around in the House of Representatives. Ms. Spellings is quite a fan of “increased accountability”. TeacherJay still thinks it is a bad idea to punish, or penalize, schools for not making “sufficient progress” when that progress is ill-defined in the first place. Today’s post looks briefly at how the head of all education systems in the country might spell disaster for immigrant students.

Particularly troubling is her fight against giving immigrant students 5 years before having to take a standardized test in English. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiciency (CALP) is “the language ability required for academic achievement” according to the DOE website; as opposed to Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), which is the language ability required for verbal face-to-face communication.

Unfortunately, the generally accepted timeframes for developing these skills in a full-immersion program is usually around 2-3 years for BICS, sometimes referred to as “playground English” and as much as 5-7 years for CALP (Myths of Second Language Acquisition, Communicating with ESOL Students, Acquiring English as a Second Language, – and there are MANY others!). Ms. Spellings, is it really “too long” to give students the amount of time that it takes for immigrant students to develop necessary skills in English before we test them and hold their teachers accountable?… just because a child can speak to his friends on the playground in just a few months does not mean that he is ready to comprehend passages written in English and make a few mis-spellings along the way.

TeacherJay may just have to take back that gold star!

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8 Responses to “Miss-Spellings”

  1. acohen843 Says:

    I think we need a “No Teacher Left Behind” and “No School Left Behind” program. Accountability, when used as a guide can be very useful but people learn at different levels.

    I teach ESL in a program that is managed by the local community college in my city. All of my students are adults. Some have a high school education, some made it to the ninth grade and some left school after the fourth grade.

    I know not all of my students will move to the next level in one semester. The odds are against this. Last semester the two students that advanced had an eleventh grade education and a twelfth grade education. I wanted to advance another student. She has a high school education and could certainly succeed at the next level, but bureaucracy prevented it.

    One student that was promoted to my class decided to stay at his current level. He did well on the tests but felt he still needed more practice at his current level. I wonder what the “No Child Left Behind” policy wonks would think about that!

    This event gave me an idea about a less-structured approach to learning (http://acohen843.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/a-less-structured-approach-to-education/).

    Alan
    acohen843.wordpress.com

  2. JP Says:

    TeacherJay, I agree with your thoughts on the issue of conversational English vs. comprehensive reading. I too teach in an urban setting where a majority of the students simply can not comprehend grade level English, for a variety of reasons – and they should be allowed more time to become reasonably aquainted with the written and read language.

    Considering that it is the teachers who are ultimately held responsible, regardless of student capability or standing, and with the jump in required passing grades to make the “grade” as it were, it seems almost irresponsible to call students failing who can not understand what is really going on.

  3. Peter Rock Says:

    When a new director stepped into a school I used to teach at, changes were made. I had managed to convince the then current director to allow me to teach without grades. For two years I taught in this blissful environment. But my approach didn’t jive with the new director’s support of the “accountability movement”. I was also told that I would stand up in front of the community and give traditional awards to my students (e.g. Excellence, Most Improved, etc.). When I refused and wrote an explanation as to why I don’t buy into such traditions I threw in a few quotes and references to Alfie Kohn. Hoping reason would reign, I was in for a surprise. The retort was simple and to the point. I either give awards, or I consider teaching elsewhere. As well, I was told that Kohn is “a leftist who is not a part of the mainstream”. This was the response and “reason” given to address my basic question… “Why?”

    Thanks for stopping in Jay. I’ve now got you in my RSS reader. As well, “GCompris” may make a good addition to your free software in education list.

  4. TeacherJay Says:

    This has been a lively discussion so far and I wanted to address these comments to further advance it.

    Alan – I agree that there needs to be accountability at some level in every school – hasn’t there always been though… students are accountable to teachers and to parents; teachers are accountable to administrators and to parents; parents should be accountable to students and teachers – the oft-overlooked item is that everyone should be accountable to themselves.

    JP – Excellent point that it is the teachers who become accountable for students’ learning even though they have them for only 10 months. The worst part about this is that students who did not come into the classroom on grade level and are then are still not on grade level at the end of the year are considered to be failures on the part of the teacher even though they may have shown progress. This is an idea that I posted over on Alan’s blog (http://acohen843.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/a-less-structured-approach-to-education/).

    Peter – I have seen classrooms without grades – I assume that you reported progress to students and parents using some sort of comprehensive form. The potential problem I see with this effort is that many parents simply aren’t used to it; as well, there is the sad fact that many teachers may not take it seriously and will not do the required observation and reflection of student progress that such an approach would demand. Benchmarks for progress and a clear measurement system would still need to be defined, though it could be modified and suited for each student.

    And now some questions for all of you:
    How should ESL/ESOL/LEP students be treated when it is time for state exams?Is this crackdown on testing for these students really just a way to exert pressure on (possibly illegal) immigrant families?

  5. JP Says:

    In response to your question (I will take the second one first):

    I don’t believe that we can say, at this point, that this is a government attempt to crackdown on possibly illegal immigrant families. If this were the case, surely there would be a higher pressure of commitment and schooling placed on the parents or guardians than on the school districts and teachers. When we consider simply that an overall mark of pass/fail for many states is simply attendance at school, we see right away a flaw in thinking. Of course it makes sense that for students to be educated they need to be at school, but in reality, how much control over lifestyle or family awareness/recognition of the importance of schooling does our education system have?

    The first question of how ELL students should be handled during state exams is extremely complicated. First, you have the fact that numerous school districts, especially in inner-city areas, have a very high percentage of what are legally ELL students. Secondly, you have a similar problem of migration of students between schools and living arrangements, which anyone in the teaching business knows is a paperwork and management nightmare, especially when students move into the district shortly before a test administration. Simply put, I believe the test needs to be reconfigured not to test a general level of “ability”, but rather place a stronger emphasis on growth. The governments in charge of the tests have the ability (we have all seen the websites and statistics) to track individual students down to the exact questions they are missing – so tracking their progress over numerous years should not be that difficult.

    ELL students should be placed in a completely separate category, and tested based on different standards which can be put in place to test their language ability and usage. Once a student has shown significant growth in these areas, they should be returned to the standard testing situation where they can be more successful.

    What is truly sad, in my viewpoint, is that so much emphasis is placed on these tests that school simply becomes a job for so many students. It seems like assessment occur almost every month in some form or another. The time necessary for assessments not only cuts in-class time where real learning can occur, but the drive for above standard test results creates a learning environment for all students, be they ELL or not, are simply not free to use or develop true critical thinking and logic skills. This also makes it hard, from a teachers perspective, to engage our students with a love of learning that so many of us had growing up.

  6. Peter Rock Says:

    “I have seen classrooms without grades – I assume that you reported progress to students and parents using some sort of comprehensive form.”

    Yes. At first I did a lot of writing – especially for report cards. And then I started audio recording my conversations with students regarding their work. This seemed to be a better approach in that quality assessment was happening but with much less effort. Just sit with the student, click record, make a few points, ask a few questions, and then press stop. But that approach was just getting going when I got shut down. I hope to try it again one day.

    “How should ESL/ESOL/LEP students be treated when it is time for state exams?”

    That would depend on what the exam is used for. But for an “accountability” exam, such scores should be tagged and reported on separately, no? Of course, the question is assuming we accept the problem of state exams used for the purposes of “accountability”. Once we do that, we’re just coming up with band-aid solutions rather than doing something to heal the wound.

    Dunno.

  7. alan Says:

    “How should ESL/ESOL/LEP students be treated when it is time for state exams?”

    That is a tough question. I teach adult immigrants. In terms of schooling, some left school after the 4th grade, most by the 9th grade, and a few have made it to the 11th and 12th grade.

    They have to take a state exam and I do as much as possible to give them the skills to do as well as they can.

    Personally, I’m against the exam. My job is to give them enough English survival skills to get a job and to be able to be part of their communities.

    The other day I was teaching them units of measure for shopping skills, for example, a quart of milk, a pound of meat. it was in their ESL books (Side by Side). For some, it took time to see the relationship between quarts and half gallons. I felt good that they were learning something useful although it would never be on the test.

    Those that make these tests and those that select the tests should sit in a class for one year. The first semester they observe, the second semester they teach.

    I just try to make their lives a bit better.

  8. Augusta Says:

    Now my high school ELLs are expected to take regular college prep English after one year of ESOL! This is no child left behind? I think we will be leaving many behind….


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