Friday, September 08, 2017

Albany Doubles Down on Stupid

Yesterday I taught an advanced ESL class for the first time in a few years. Because words liked "advanced" are too easily understood, the outstanding thinkers in Albany now call them "transitioning." Naturally, I'm quite impressed. I had the students write a diagnostic essay. These are students who, according to the geniuses in Albany, ought to be performing around the same level as native English speakers.

I read all of the essays. Two of them were only two sentences, basically explaining to me that they either couldn't or didn't write. Fully half of them did not use past tense at all, and definitely should have. A few of them were pretty good. None were near native and all need remediation to get there.

In our school, we pair ESL with English. I'm certified in both, so I don't need a co-teacher. My inclination for these kids before I met them was to cover a few novels. However, having read their work, I'm thinking more about short stories and intermediate ESL instruction. That is, except for those who couldn't produce more than two sentences. They are beginners, despite what the very expensive corporate-produced NYSESLAT exam says.

And by the way, the NYSESLAT test is not only total crap; it's also the test by which ESL teachers are rated. To my way of thinking, it's a crap shoot. While it's true that near-beginners are testing advanced this year, it doesn't mean that will happen next year. So even though a few of my beginners from last year ended up in this class, I'm not patting myself on the back just yet.

Here's another interesting thing about my two advanced classes--because of Part 154, the students cannot be more than one grade apart. Therefore my period one class has three students, and my period two class has 34. I wasn't aware of that at first, and I was going to ask that some of the period 2 kids be moved to period one. That way I could have two reasonably sized classes and give decent attention to all students.

There's another factor here. Any English teacher could take the twelve magical ESL credits and teach this class, the same as me. I am not persuaded that these English teachers would see what I do. I am not persuaded they will have the resources I do. They most certainly won't have the experience I do. Most of them have never taught ESL. Sadly, direct instruction in ESL is precisely what these students need.

We've heard plenty about differentiating education. Some crazy supervisors have even requested multiple lesson plans within the same class. But the big move in Part 154 is away from differentiation where it is most needed. The idea is, let's forget, to the largest extent possible, that newcomers have different language needs than native speakers. Let's just give them the same stuff we give to the American kids and hope for the best.

Make no mistake, this is moving backwards. It's close to the same level of ignorance we showed when we gave IQ tests in English to newcomers and labeled them stupid, or worse. The newcomers weren't stupid, and they aren't stupid now. The only stupid around here is coming from Albany, and also us if we believe in their policies.

It's time to take a giant step away from the overpriced nonsense that passes for testing in NY State. And it's time to rewrite, reform, and remake Part 154 from the ground up.
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