« A Prize for 'Social Innovators' Older Than 60 | Main | House Committee Releases Draft For Reauthorizing Title III »

Secretary Spellings Criticizes ELL Proposals

| 6 Comments

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings doesn't like some of the provisions for English-language learners in a preliminary proposal by leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee for reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. (See previous post, here.) In a letter she sent today to Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from California who is chairman of the committee, she criticized the proposal that school districts could let English-language learners take tests in their native language for up to five years, with the option of extending that time by two more years on a case-by-case basis. "That's simply too long; this would allow a 3rd grade student to reach the 10th grade before ever being tested in English," Ms. Spellings wrote.

Let me note that the example Ms. Spellings gives would refer to a 3rd grader who arrived in U.S. schools in 3rd grade, not a 3rd grader who had enrolled in U.S. schools in kindergarten, as I interpret the committee's draft. The time frame starts when a child first begins attending U.S. schools.

Ms. Spellings implies that the proposed provision to extend the time frame for using native-language tests is an incentive to "slow down" the learning of English rather than speed it up. I'm expecting that some bilingual education advocates might address that observation by saying there's nothing wrong with slowing down the learning of English, as long as a child learns English well over the long haul of his or her school career. And if the child receives bilingual education—and can take tests in his or her native language—he or she could well end up having a good command of two languages instead of just English.

In general, Ms. Spellings contends the proposed changes in accountability for students with disabilities and ELLs will exclude more students from accountability and "allow them to be held to lower standards."

6 Comments

Secretary Spellings believes that allowing English learners to take tests in their native language for up to five years is "simply too long." Is this claim based on scientific research? No, it's just her opinion -- apparently based on a gut feeling rather than on any informed view of language acquisition.

Here, in microcosm, is the folly of NCLB where English language learners are concerned. Virtually none of the ELL "accountability" provisions in NCLB -- or in the Miller-McKeon proposal for reauthorizing it -- bear any relation to reality. No empirical data supports them. Rather, they are arbitrary determinations that are being promoted for political, not pedagogical, reasons.

Research shows great variability in the length of time it takes children to acquire a second language, depending on a range of social and individual factors. Some kids are ready to take English-language tests relatively early; others need a lot more time. Why impose legal mandates based on gut feelings about when ELLs should be ready to take academic assessments in English? Why not leave such judgments to the teachers who know them best?

Oh, I forgot... Under NCLB, teachers are the enemy.

Currently our English language learners are overtested. They take English proficiency exams in addition to the high-stakes MCAS. These students, who need more instructional time, are spending hours taking standardized tests.
The English proficiency exam should be a gate-keeper for the grade level content assessments. Students at the beginning through intermediate levels of English proficiency should not be sitting through lengthy and frustrating standardized tests.
Under the current system, students are penalized for being bilingual and schools are penalized for having large numbers of English language learners.
We are hoping for a new system that supports students.

In her press release, the secretary stated that for English learners, “Between 2000 and 2005, their fourth grade reading scores jumped an unprecedented 20 points.”

The secretary is either uninformed or is twisting the data.

Jim Crawford has noted that nearly all of the jump happened well before NCLB took effect (2002-3), and looks even bigger because of a decline just before 2000:
1999: 174
2000: 167
2001: 183
2002: 186
2003: 187
See Crawford’s analysis at http://www.elladvocates.org/

Press release, Sept 5, 2007:: Secretary Spellings Highlights No Child Left Behind Reauthorization in Remarks to Members of the Business Coalition for Student Achievement. http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/09/09052007.html

Sorry Mary Ann, I disagree with your statement that "I'm expecting that some bilingual education advocates might address that observation by saying there's nothing wrong with slowing down the learning of English, as long as a child learns English well over the long haul of his or her school career. And if the child receives bilingual education—and can take tests in his or her native language—he or she could well end up having a good command of two languages instead of just English."

I do not know a single teacher who would say it's okay to slow down the learning of English. I do not know a single advocate of bilingual programs that would say the same either. However, what would be wrong for a student to take math tests in their native language while they develop the English language skills to interpret math word problems? A native language test may indicate that the student has the cognitive understanding of the correct processes to solve math problems, but not enough academic English to interpret the questions. Allowing this type of testing would provide data on a student's academic competence. This seems to me as useful data.
The goal remains that students will take the same tests as native speakers (who are struggling with the FCAT here in Florida by the way).
The question is how will States measure English language development AND academic knowledge over time. Standardized testing designed with native speaker norms does not provide meaningful data about the progress or lack of for ELLs.

I only wonder how many languages Secretary Spellings speaks herself. As an English speaker who has become quite fluent in Spanish, I know something about how long it takes. Some things we can speed up for ELLs but some things we can't. They have to develop. I believe in the basic principles of accountability under NCLB; it was a long time in coming but taking ELA tests after one year in US education in English is very unfair and, like the rest of the law, says that everyone is the same and there can be no variations in individual progress without punishing the school or the district involved. It just doesn't happen that way.

How does testing them in their native language equal slowing down the learning of English? In my unscientific anaylsis of the latest math standardized test my students took, I decided that 90% of the math questions required English. My ELs are middle school students who have been in this country for 2 years or less. At the end of the year, I'm doing cartwheels if they can read at a 3rd grade level. Then they have to take an 8th grade level test in English. Imagine if they could take that math, science, social studies test in their native language!

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog

Advertisement

Most Viewed on Education Week

Categories

Archives

Recent Comments