Friday, May 03, 2019

NYSED Fiddles While ELLs Are Ignored

I’d just like to express, for the record, that I find this article amazing. After virtually gutting direct English instruction for ELLs, NY State thinks giving a college course or two to potential teachers will somehow compensate. This is absolutely absurd. It is the official policy of UFT and NYSUT that ELLs need more, not less, direct instruction in English. It is remarkable, not to mention unconscionable, that NY State does not share that policy. 

It is supremely ironic that the state now proposes to instruct potential teachers about language acquisition. The most recent revision of Part 154 is abundant evidence that the state itself knows little or nothing about language acquisition.I don't know what the Regents do all day, but removing 33-100% of direct English instruction from high school English Language Learners is one of the very stupidest acts I've witnessed in education. I've been teaching in New York City since 1984, and believe me, I've seen stupid in virtually every flavor. 

Here's an example--there are few things quite so idiotic as New York State's notion that direct English instruction exists for the purpose of preparing students for core courses. Our job is improving student lives, not showing them how to pass tests. What do you think of doing when you think of learning a new language? I think of going to new places, and meeting and talking with new people. For my students, I think of them making friends, helping older family members, and learning how to live in the United States.

New York State takes a different approach. They think the reason we teach people the native language of the United States is so they can take tests. They actually state that the purpose of direct English instruction is to prepare student for "core subjects." You see, according to the people in charge of education in our state, we learn English so we can do better in social studies and math. That way, we can move toward the ultimate language activity--taking a state test.

Ironically, New York State tests, at least the ones I'm dealing with, are among the worst I've ever seen. I've spent most of the week giving a speaking and listening test, part of the NYSESLAT, which is supposed to help place ELLs. The problem with this test is it does not much involve speaking and listening. The students taking it have the text in front of them the entire time. How often do you have text in front of you when you are listening?

As for speaking, they are frequently extracting information from test in front of them. While the instructions say use your own words, there are a whole lot of words from which to borrow right in front of your face. This does not mimic actual speaking and listening, and that's just one reason ELLs are placed too high, almost always.

I used to teach two sections of beginners, students unfamiliar with English and its conventions. Now I teach one, and students who'd have ended in my beginning class are frequently in my advanced. Many are unable to use past tense in English. Many cannot compose a comprehensible sentence. And now that they're measured by an English Regents exam that does not really measure writing, they don't need to fret over things like that. 

In much of the state, only rank beginners are given direct English instruction. The state seems to feel that acquiring the English language is not a worthwhile pursuit. Take the kid, dump her into a classroom where they're reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and hope for the best. We'll sit an ESL teacher in the back of the classroom two days a week, give the teacher no consultation as to what's going on in the class, make no allowance for one on one time with this teacher, and that will solve everything.

Chalkbeat presents a ridiculous, rosy notion that we're gonna help ELLs by making future teachers take a course. Meanwhile, all over NY State, ELLs struggle to get by in school. Forget about getting by in life, because tests are all the state values.We've moved virtually all the way backward to sink or swim, and no one in NYSED seems to care at all.
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