Saturday, April 11, 2015

NYSED official agrees: state ELA exams given to English Language learners provide no useful information to their teachers or parents

Tomorrow at 11: 30 AM, Sunday April 11, I will be appearing on Tiempo, on ABC, hosted by Joe Torres, talking about why all kids but especially English Language Learners should opt out of next week’s ELA state exams.  The program taped last week.  English Language Learners make up 14.4% of the total NYC public school population.

I appeared with Angelica Infante-Green, NY State Associate Commissioner of the Office of Bilingual Education.  To my surprise, Ms. Infante-Green immediately agreed that the state ELA exam is useless in terms of the information they provide about ELL students to teachers, parents or schools.  She also said that because the test was so difficult, it could not show "growth" and thus was an invalid measure to evaluate teachers with ELL students. Yet she strongly opposed opting out of the test, and continued to argue that it could hurt the school’s funding if too many students opted out – a point that has been refuted by other NYS Education officials.

Ms. Infante-Green revealed that NYSED had sent in a waiver request to the US Department of Education, asking if they could exempt English Language Learners from the test for at least two years after they enter this country, instead of only one year, which is the mandate now. She said that they really wanted to exempt such students from the ELA exam for at least three years, but didn't think they could possibly get such a waiver.

Below is some of the research I did in advance by asking teachers and professors, expert in this area.  This is important information to share, especially as I didn’t have the time to make all these points

Please also read Katie Lapham’s terrific list of reasons to opt out, and the oped in the Daily News today by Arthur Goldstein, a high school ESL teacher.

Katie Lapham: first grade dual language teacher, previously 5th grade ESL teacher:

Children take the grades 3-8 ELA test after just one year in the system (even though it takes a lot longer than that to become fluent in academic English). Looking at test score data for ELLs highlights how unreliable and misleading the scores are. Only three percent of ELLs "passed" the 2014 ELA. It's ridiculous to make the claim that 97% of ELLs are "failing" in ELA. 

The scores are useless to me and do not reflect the growth ELLs make in the classroom.

The tests are abusive: ELLs get extended time (time and a half) on the tests; instead of 90 minutes per day for six days (3 days for ELA, 3 days for math), 5th grade ELLs, for example, are entitled to 135 minutes each testing day. That’s a total of 13.5 hours! 

Our ELLs are subjected to even more tests afterwards. Following the NYS ELA and math tests, ELLs are mandated to take the 4-part NYSESLAT which assesses their proficiency in the reading, writing, listening and speaking of English. The reading and writing sub-tests resemble the NYS ELA test.   This means hours and hours more of testing.

Laura Kaplan, Adjunct Professor of bilingual education at Hunter College:

All research in the field suggests that it takes English language learners 5-7 years to develop Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) in English, the kind of academic knowledge that is tested on standardized tests (Cummins, 1979, 1981, 1984). 

This is quite a different kind of knowledge than conversational English (Basic Interpersonal Communication - BICS) which can be picked up in 1-3 years.  Just because a student is conversationally proficient in English, this proficiency should not be confused with academic mastery that a native English speaker might be expected to have at the same age.

The testing is totally antithetical to all research on English language learning. It is inhumane and cruel and shows us absolutely nothing.  Testing negatively impacts instructional time which could be productively spent learning English, not test-prep, and fosters resentment, decreased motivation, and the highest dropout rates of any other population (ELLs). Shame on the SED for propagating tests which have no educational value.

Watch my appearance on Tiempo with Joe Torres here- April 12th, 2015 show


Anonymous said...


I am an ESL teacher and you could not be more on target.

Mary said...

hmmmm...u forgot to mention Special Education students that get double time to take tests norm-referenced 2 to 3 years beyond their chronological grade. It's lovely having students that come into my in September reading at a first grade level and by March they reading on a 4th to 5th grade level that receive at test that is norm-referenced at 7th-8th grade level.

Anonymous said...

And I would like to add that kids are forced out of ESL services way too son over the past 10 years

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