Sunday, August 02, 2009

Testing Students Who Don't Speak English As Their First Language

This isn't a result you'd expect in California:

California is entitled to administer school achievement tests and high school exit exams in English to all students, including the nearly 1.6 million who speak limited English, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco rejected arguments by bilingual-education groups and nine school districts that English-only exams violate a federal law's requirement that limited-English-speaking students "shall be assessed in a valid and reliable manner."

The federal law, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, neither requires nor forbids testing in a student's native language and leaves such decisions largely up to the states, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. It noted that the U.S. Department of Education has approved the state Board of Education's testing plans since 2002, though department auditors recently suggested more accommodations for limited-English-speakers.

The law does not authorize a court to act as "the official second-guesser" of the reliability of a state's testing methods, Justice Timothy Reardon said in Thursday's ruling, which upheld a San Francisco judge's 2007 decision.
It should not be a secret that English is the language of success in this country. People can complain about that all day, but it's true--English is the de facto official language of this country. I'm not convinced that someone who doesn't speak English is entitled to earn a diploma from a publicly-funded school in this state. If a diploma means anything, it means that a student has mastered at least a minimum amount of information, in English.

I can't imagine how many languages are spoken in this state. I myself have taught students whose first language is any of several--Spanish, Russian, Ukranian, Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Hmong, to name a few. It wouldn't make sense to create tests in every subject in every language, although some might insist that's needed. Others would advocate for only Spanish, given that Spanish-speakers are our largest subset of ESL students--but if all others can test in English, why not the Spanish-speakers as well?

For students who speak limited English, the law requires "reasonable accommodations," which can include extra time, use of dictionaries, and giving instructions in a student's native language. States can exempt students from the test during their first year in a U.S. school.

California outlawed "bilingual education" several years ago. This ruling seems to be in accordance with state law.

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