U.S. Says Language Exam Does Not Comply With Law
Ohanian Comment: The Feds are making the same complaint about Vermont, among others. The Feds are determined that kids with special needs should take the same test as "regular" kids. Typical. Instead of trying to comply, let's hope some state officials have the gumption to say, "Hell, no! We won't do it!"
Compliance is another word for gangrene. What we need right now are not improved tests. What we need is a revolution.
by David M. Herszenhorn
The federal Department of Education has found that New York State’s methods for testing the annual progress of disabled students and students with limited English proficiency do not comply with the No Child Left Behind law and that the state must correct the problems within a year or risk losing $1.2 million in federal school aid.
The finding was issued in a letter late last month to the state education commissioner, Richard P. Mills. In the letter, Henry L. Johnson, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told Mr. Mills that the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test “is not sufficiently comparable to the regular English language arts assessment” for use as “a substitute language arts assessment.”
Mr. Johnson also said that tests for special education students were not suitable for their grade or age.
State officials said they were already working on the problems related to testing special education students. But they said the finding could have serious consequences for the state’s nearly 175,000 non-English speaking students, including about 145,000 in New York City, by requiring them to take the regular annual state reading exam.
A large number of these students would likely fail the test and, as a result, hundreds more schools could be branded as needing improvement under provisions of No Child Left Behind. The law requires annual testing and schools can be sanctioned if groups of students, like racial minorities or disabled children, fail to make adequate progress.
To help formulate its response to the federal government, the state education department later this week is convening a group of experts on bilingual education.
Other possible solutions include forcing non-English speakers to take both the regular test and the test they have been taking, or for the state to devise an entirely new test, which could cost millions of dollars. In the school year that just ended, 173,434 non-English speaking students statewide took the existing exam, known by its acronym, Nyseslat. Students are typically required to take the regular state English exam after three years in school in New York.
Mr. Mills, in a statement, said that it was too soon to describe specific remedies but that he expected to address regulators’ concerns. “We are going to resolve these issues,” he said. “We will work with educators from across the state to arrive at a solution. This will include members of the bilingual and special education communities.”
David Cantor, a spokesman for Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, said it was premature for the city to comment.
New York was one of 36 states whose accountability systems under No Child Left Behind were found by federal reviews to have substantial problems and deemed “pending approval.” Only 10 states won approval, while two, Maine and Nebraska, had their testing systems rejected.
Local experts on bilingual education said the federal government’s complaint was just the latest example of non-English speaking children being an afterthought in American school systems.
Maria Neira, a first vice president of the state teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, said it was “unfair” of the federal government to expect newly arrived immigrant students to take the same exam as native English speakers.
“Of course, the tests are not comparable, they are not comparable because they are not developed to measure the same skills,” she said. “One is language acquisition, the other is English language skills. What’s going to happen is you are not going to have our English language learner students showing any progress. This is a big dilemma for us.”
Lillian Rodríguez-López, the president of the Hispanic Federation, said the government should focus first on the programs offered to non-English speakers.
“What they really need to look at are the resources, the funding that they put into No Child Left Behind,” she said. “There are not enough certified teachers, the curriculum is not strong enough. We need a solid set of standards that are being followed across the state.”
David M. Herszenhorn
New York Times
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