Wednesday, July 12, 2006

English? Who Needs English?

I'm surprised by an article in the Times stating that NY State is leaving ESL students behind. It's quite true, or course, but for none of the reasons the article states.

Apparently, the feds have deemed that the NYCESLAT exam, which purports to measure the proficiency of ESL students in English, does not measure the same things as the English Regents. That's true also, but the English Regents is supposed to measure reading and writing skills, not the extent to which kids born here have acquired the English language.

The odd thing is that the feds, the state, and apparently the Times seems to think that the NYCESLAT is a stand-in for the Regents exam. It is not. All ESL students are required to take the English Regents exam, and are denied graduation if they fail to pass it.

This results in kids who've been here for a very short time being compelled to take the test. I am regularly sent kids who cannot speak English at all and asked to prepare them for the Regents exam. It's absurd.

As for the NYCESLAT, it tests only things I'd teach to first-year students. Originally the standard was set so high that a perfect score, apparently, was required to pass. Then the standard was lowered dramatically, so that many kids with few English skills could pass. The city test sets the bar even lower.

We're not doing these kids any service by setting the bar so low, and sending them to college with such meager language skills. Nor do the Times, the feds, or the state do us any service by being so poorly informed.

Update: A poster writes that this applies to grades 3-8, not high school. I'm not changing the piece, because I think while the grades may have changed, the point has not. In fact, this expands the problem.
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