I spent last week giving oral exams to ESL students. Each year, our students have to take an exam called the NYSESLAT. This year, it's different from what it was in the past, and evidently aligned to the Common Core. The Common Core, you see, is akin to the Ten Commandments, is the best thing since sliced bread, and renders all that came before it obsolete. We have finally achieved perfection on earth, never to be improved upon until something replaces it, which could happen any moment, but will almost certainly happen next year (like every other).
The speaking test leans heavily on non-fiction, and doesn't delve into any of that touchy-feely personalization stuff. After all, David Coleman, largely regarded as the architect of Common Core, was famously quoted saying no one gives a crap how you feel. Ironically, I actually don't give a crap how David Coleman feels, so to an extent, he's correct. On the other hand, my students, who've been sitting one period waiting to take the test, and the next with a sub, are probably feeling less than inspired, and getting considerably less instruction as a result of this test.
There are some flaws with the oral part of the test. The largest flaw, in my opinion, is the patently idiotic decision to test Common Core rather than English. As I ask the questions for the two-hundredth time, I ask myself what would happen if I were to give this test, say, to ninth grade students who were born here. If this were a perfect English test, all the native speakers would establish themselves as such and receive a perfect score. I don't think that would happen.
Not everyone is logical, and not everyone is a good reader. These traits are important, but they're far from the first thing newcomers need to be taught. For one thing, if newcomers already carry these traits, they need not be taught them at all. For another, if they don't, they need to acquire basic conversation and usage before such things can even be considered.
Another issue is the rubric, in which differences between levels are vague, sketchy, and insufficiently differentiated. I'm not an expert, but I could do better than that.
Things I find fundamental, like native-level usage, are of little or no importance. It's like we're raising a generation of drones to answer tedious questions on topics people may or may not care about, and presenting the topics in such a way as to preclude any kind of inspiration. Though we demand detail and precision from kids, the test writers often provide us with neither. There is a passage that uses a fairly fundamental word incorrectly. We are told to reword questions in ways that fundamentally change their meaning, and judge the revised question by the same rubric.
I can't tell you what the tests are about, and I can't give you the precise language in question, as The Testing Company will probably have me fired and sued for a gazillion dollars, but I can tell you the things they test are not on my bedside reading list. This is what you call a "secure" test. I'm not allowed to reproduce or distribute it. Nonetheless, it takes days to administer.
Naturally, no kid remembers what is on the test, and no kid tells any other kid about it. Kids would never do that, because kids never try to do better on tests by any means necessary. Therefore no student comes into the test expecting to hear a certain question. No kid comes in prepared to discuss things they would otherwise be unprepared to discuss. I have never seen kid cheat on a placement test and end up in classes for which they are unprepared, and no kid would ever sit back a few days and wait to find out what's on a test before taking it.
And that's just a few of the reasons why I have absolute faith in companies that don't know me, don't know my school, don't know my kids, and basically don't know anything to issue assessments. They aren't prejudiced in favor of the kids like I am. I want the kids to succeed, while they don't give a golly gosh darn. I want the kids in classes that help them learn English, while they want them grouped according to how Common Corey they are.
Thank goodness the geniuses at the NY State Board of Regents study Common Core instead of language acquisition. Where would we be if mere teachers assessed students instead of well-compensated strangers from Albany?
Views expressed herein are solely those of the author or authors, and do not reflect views of my employers, the United Federation of Teachers, the MORE Caucus or any other union caucus.
Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.