Friday, May 10, 2019

Thank You, NYSED, for Your Standardized Test

So it's day six of NYSESLAT testing, supposedly to measure the English level of my students.  Once again there's no class for us. We just sit for yet another day and do the test. I'm stationed outside, perhaps to ensure no one escapes.

For the last decade, I've taught mostly beginners. A lot of my colleagues prefer teaching higher levels. I ask for lower ones and I generally get what I ask for. It's a win-win, in that I get what I want and my colleagues get what they want. At least it used to be.

As chapter leader of a large school, I teach four rather than five classes. For years I'd get two double-period classes of beginners. Last year, while I had one full section, my second section had only eight students. This year, I had only one section and taught an advanced class. This has proven educational, if nothing else.

Where had all my students gone? I found out this year. It turns out that most of the students in my advanced class don't belong there at all. I started the class out by giving them a novel called The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. It's a lovely book, utilizing simple language to express complex ideas and emotions. The last time I taught it, students loved it. This time it went over like a lead balloon.

I didn't really understand why at first. It was only when I started to focus more on their writing that I saw what was going on. Many of these students were unfamiliar with fundamental English conventions. There was no subject-verb agreement. There was no past tense. I understand a lot of people don't specifically teach these things, and that the idea is to teach it in context. I can deal with that, and I can do it. These kids had not done that, let alone much reading or writing.

If you look at the English Regents exam, there's a rubric. Using the conventions of standard English is right at the bottom of it, if I recall correctly. The important thing is the so-called close reading. That means, basically, you extract crap from one piece of writing and place it in your own words. On the bright side, you're supposed to explain what it means. However, changing the words of a sentence or two, to me at least, does not necessarily represent comprehension.

The NYSESLAT is like the little brother of the English Regents exam, and it seems to determine how Common Corey our students are. It most certainly does not determine how much English they know. Otherwise, my advanced class could've handled the novel, as my advanced classes in the past have. I would not have felt that more than half of my class was in dire need of taking my beginner's class. I do know that if these kids go to CUNY, they will get tested in English. They will fail and end up in remedial courses in community colleges. They will pay for the classes but receive no credit.

Why is this happening? The only conclusion I can come to is that NYSED wants to rid itself of the need for ESL teachers. After all, there''s been a shortage forever. By initiating Part 154, they've cut the need for us. All you need is a subject teacher with the magical 12  credits, and voila! We've met the requirements. And who cares what they actually know? I've seen students who write most awfully if at all, and they've gotten 80 or above on the English Regents exam. They're college and career ready, according to the rubric. Who cares if they're actually nothing of the sort?

There's a speaking test in which most speaking is done by the teacher. The students mostly read the text. If they can manage to change a word or two and reproduce the message, that's good enough for NY State to determine they can understand and produce verbal English. Whether or not they actually can is of no consequence whatsoever. 

The geniuses in Albany have rigged the game so as to make it convenient for themselves. I have seen no evidence that they give a golly gosh darn about my students, and forget about me and my colleagues. They are disgraceful, totally indifferent to the students I try to help. Now they wish to blame teachers for their outrageous misdeeds, and want us to take a few courses to make up for this. Evidently, because they know nothing about language acquisition, they've determined we must not either.

I can't believe these people are allowed to sit around cushy offices, make terrible baseless decisions, go to gala luncheons, and get away with this outrageous incompetence. Of course I'm just a lowly teacher sitting around administering tests. It's not my job to question them.

Too bad for them that I wasn't trained Common Core style. Too bad for them that I question what I see, as opposed to the paragraphs and lines to which their test may direct me. Too bad for them I see how utterly ineffective their methodology is. If they'd only take these shackles from my feet, I'd have a lot more time to show and encourage students how to do the same. That's not to mention I could easily teach them how to really write, and fundamental English skills, about which NY state couldn't care less.
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