To the Editor:
October in New England is “NECAP time,” when public school students show what they know and can do on state assessments. While the stated goal of making sure that all schools are adequately educating our children sounds laudable, these tests are not appropriate for all students.
English language learner (ELL) students who have been in the U.S. for less than one year do not have to take state tests in reading, but they do in mathematics. Each time I administer the state math assessments in English to ELLs who have been in the country for between a few weeks to one year, I wonder why I am forced to do this. Students can ask for single word translations, an accommodation that research suggests is not helpful as was illustrated this year when a student who arrived here this summer asked during the assessment, “O que é ‘does’?” or “What does ‘does’ mean?” (Think for a minute – How would you translate “does” to a third grader?) The student left more than half of his answers blank and got many others wrong – not because he does not have the math skills (he is on grade level in his native language) – but because he did not understand what he was reading. I can predict that he will score “significantly below proficient,” as has been the case with almost all of our first-year students.
To demonstrate one’s ability to “do the math” on these assessments, one has to be able to read in English.
It is time that we realize that this is a futile activity. If we believe that they have not acquired enough language proficiency to take a reading assessment, we should also realize that they have not acquired enough proficiency to take a math assessment filled with word problems. Otherwise, we are not evaluating what they can do; only how resilient they are to our ridiculous testing policies.
Julie Nora, Ph.D.
Director, International Charter School