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Defiant Student in Storm Lake Gets Backing from Asian-American Group

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The Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund is calling for the Storm Lake school district in Iowa to remove any references to suspension or disciplinary action from the record of a student who refused to take an English-language proficiency test. See my previous post about the matter, "A Storm in Storm Lake."

The press release says that honors student Lori Phanachone has been mislabeled as an English-language learner because she said on a home-language survey that she speaks Lao. (Federal law requires school districts to test students who speak a language other than English at home in English proficiency upon enrollment.)

The release says that Phanachone is an honor student who has succeeded in mainstream classes. It says the district didn't test her in English two years ago when she first enrolled in the district, but it has since required her to take an English-proficiency test. This school year she refused, and the school district suspended her for three days, according to the release.

The organization asks for clarification on how the district classifies students as ELLs on enrollment and to explain why Phanachone was considered to be an ELL. It asks the district to reclassify her as proficient in English if appropriate under Iowa and federal law.

I'm thinking, though, that it might be hard for the district to do that, if she won't take the English-proficiency test.

It's not clear if Phanachone has ever taken an English-proficiency test and failed it. It's quite possible that she can do well in mainstream classes even if she can't pass the test. I've met students in New York City, for example, who passed the state's exit exam for English/language arts given to all students but failed the state's English-language proficiency test that is only for ELLs.

Update: The Storm Lake Pilot Tribune provides a few more details. Further Update: Still more details.

3 Comments

Interesting case! I've run into strong students who balk at English language testing. I explain that we don't want to risk failing to identify students needing language support, so we test all students with other languages who may not have fully developed doesn't perfectly sorts students needing language help for academic success from those who do not, especially for students at upper levels. Prior education, academic talent, perseverence and lots of other factors can tip the balance in either direction with very different outcomes for students with identical language test scores. Multiple measures/criteria should be part of the deterimination of whom to test and in use of test scores for ESL placement decisions. I'm interested in what others think.

I agree; this is a very interesting case. I'm wondering if the ESL teacher or administrator who told this student she had to take the language proficiency test even looked at Iowa's definition for limited English proficiency. I just read it on Iowa's DOE website. If this student has been demonstrating high levels of academic achievement (and therefore, proficiency) for the last two years, then she very obviously is not limited English proficient. We can't leave determinations about langauge proficiency to one measure. And no one should be shocked that this very intelligent and gifted student objected to languge proficiency testing; such tests take students out of their regularly scheduled classes for about 4 hours. That is a lot of instructional time for an honors level student to miss. And now, she has a very serious disciplinary action on her school record that could hurt her chances of being accepted at the college of her choice. It was not this student's fault that some adult did not test her two years ago when she entered the district. Why should she have to suffer for the mistake of an educated adult? As educational professionals, we need to be sure we understand the laws and guidance of our own state educational agencies before we attempt to apply them. I hope this school district does right by this girl. I wish her luck.

I find the suggestion that Lori Phanachone, a 3.98 GPA and National Honor Society Student could have skated by and passed classes without a good command of English extremely insulting and unbecoming of an educational journal.

As a Laotian American, Lori Phanachone comes from a community that survived a devastating civil war for our homeland, a war that killed, maimed and displaced over a million of our people.

Today, over 400,000 Laotians are attempting to rebuild our lives in the US. This transition has not always been easy.

Many of us live far below the poverty line and face significant language barriers, culture clash, post-traumatic stress disorder, racism and for our youth, the threats of gang life.

But we recognize the importance of education and the role school plays in our lifelong success. An old Laotian aphorism says a head full of knowledge is worth more than a tray full of money. Lori Phanachone has clearly taken this lesson to heart.

But, there are times, such as these when civil disobedience and protest are necessary and policy must be called into question.

According to the Census 2000, less than 7% of the Laotian community holds an American bachelor degree. Less than 1 out of 10.

That the Storm Lake School District is jeopardizing the college opportunities for a young Laotian girl, whose family are survivors of the America's secret war for Laos, over a test, is of deep concern.

I hope for the best for Lori Phanachone. I have no doubt she will ultimately succeed in life, but it would be a much greater story to say that she succeeded because of, not in spite of, the educators of Storm Lake.

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