New county mandate prompts teachers' concerns
Blair's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department has raised concerns about a new county policy that requires all ESOL students except seniors to take the English 9 High School Assessment (HSA) test in order to graduate, warning that the policy will be difficult to implement and may lead to drastic future consequences.
In the past, MCPS has administered the test to all students enrolled in ninth grade English classes. However, students enrolled in level five ESOL, which is equivalent to English 9, have largely gone untested because their course was not officially designated as a freshman English class. At the start of this school year, the county announced its intention to finally test all students who are taking or have taken ESOL 5. "The law allows no exemptions from any state-mandated test," MCPS ESOL Specialist for Secondary Instruction Nina Khouri explained, "and that includes ESOL students."
While Khouri said schools should not have trouble administering the test to students, Blair's ESOL department said that it may be more difficult than the county believes to track down all the students who were supposed to take the test in previous years. "How will people check who got missed?" asked ESOL resource teacher Joseph Bellino. "There's nothing on the transcript to indicate whether the student has taken the tests yet," he explained, and the school may not be able to identify exactly which ESOL students still must take the test.
ESOL teacher Sandra Gutierrez raised an additional concern about the policy's implementation, explaining that the county's decision to administer the HSA only students who have completed ESOL 5 still neglects to account for ESOL students who do not reach that level of English proficiency by the end of senior year. "Are we going to tell these students that even if they work hard," she asked, "we aren't going to let them graduate because they didn't take this one test?"
According to Gutierrez, even more problems will surface next year, when the entering class of 2009 will likely be the first class required not just to take the HSAs, but to pass them. Since ESOL students face a large language gap that may hinder their performance on the tests, Gutierrez is concerned that they may fail the test in higher percentages than the rest of the school. "I'm not saying none will pass," she said, "but it will be very difficult for some of them, especially the kids who get here later."
Furthermore, Gutierrez is worried that Blair may suffer in the future if its ESOL students are unable pass the HSAs. "There are very real consequences for schools that do not meet targets," she explained. "They run the risk of teachers getting fired, the state coming in and taking over, all kinds of things." Under such threats, Gutierrez is concerned that Maryland may follow in the footsteps of Texas, where schools were accused of "pushing out" students who did performed poorly on standardized tests. "I'm not against high standards for all kids," she explained, "but I am against unrealistic standards that push kids out of the system."
Former ESOL students tend to agree with Gutierrez, arguing that tests administered in English are difficult for many ESOL students to comprehend. "The tests aren't going to come out in the kind of English we learned in ESOL, and we won't understand some words," says junior Julieta Lopez-Vasquez, who graduated from ESOL classes last year. "How can you answer a question if you don't know one of the words, and it's important?"
Kristina Yang. Kristina Yang is 1/10 of the Blair girls' volleyball team. When not on the court, she most likely to be running away from Magnet math homework, trying to pay off her three speeding/redlight tickets, or feeding her bubble tea addiction. She would also like to ... More »