Friday, March 18, 2005

Notes from NABE Rethinking Accountability Meeting

by Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Co-Executive Director
342 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-864-4810    fax 617-497-2224

The National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) invited a group of its members to participate in a discussion with FairTest staff, at the NABE conference in January, on two documents, the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB and the Draft Principles for Authentic Accountability. We focused on our discussion on what accountability should be for bilingual/bicultural students. I found a rich and complex discussion, getting deep into questions of culture and community, what it means to be educated, the complex needs of assessment for bilingual students, and more. I am belatedly writing up my somewhat sketchy notes. Each new paragraph represents a different speaker. Monty Neill, FairTest
How to hold politicians accountable? Money is needed for adequate ESL and training, for libraries. Money has to buy the right things. Public schools are the only chance for ESL kids.
NCLB is misguided. How can Congress vote No when the mood of the electorate is punitive?
On the Principles, I liked the idea of tracking progress over time. Need to add that accountability is now based on subject-area tests without acknowledging that these are language tests as well. Need assessments in different languages. The system does not accommodate children.
Must create assessments for ELL students. Other language is one option. Alternate ways to respond – paper and pencil and other statewide measures. Most reliable assessment is the test; there is a tension between psychometric rigor and what can be useful in a classroom. ELL population is the least politically savvy and recognized. Kids need sustained native language instruction.
Who is advocating for the learners? If you reject the language of the child you also reject the child's culture.
In the draft, you talk about ends. Need to talk about system and processes, not just ends or end state tests. NCLB says you can test in native language. The goal is not just assessment, needs to be instruction and curriculum. Need also to refrain from using negative terms to define kids, including LEP. Even ELL implies only learning English. Need new terms so kids are not defined by their deficiency.
Need a stronger statement on ends and purposes of schools. Parents and communities don't see NCLB as defining what they see as important. Statement says society can set goals, but in Native American and Latino communities we have profound concerns about what it means to be a person and an educated person. NCLB implements a vision that is abusive. Not everyone wants access to the mainstream.
A good education is much more expansive than NCLB. NCLB should espouse good educational pedagogy for all learners; we must attack bad policy.
What is the locus of decision-making, the role of the community. Never had a centralized education policy like NCLB; it runs rampant over community.
Assessment and instruction for ELL interacts with many factors. Who are the students; they evade classification; standardized achievement tests are used, we all know those problems. E.g., use LAS for ELL and non-ELL, big overlap. Large number of ELLs have higher language proficiency than non-ELLs. So is issue of classification, we lack good classifications. Under NCLB, when become proficient in English they are out of ELL (after 2 years, for counting purposes), so the group can never make AYP. Legislators may have good intentions, but they don't know about assessment or children. In NCLB, 200 pages on ELL, say assessments must be valid and reliable, but do not define it or say how to get it.
There are questions we all face around tensions between national and local, as was raised earlier. How do we ensure rights without doing it in a way that damages education?
Standards and accountability is playing into the hands of those who way they want kids simply to learn English. People have been conditioned to buy into the English focus. Need a strong statement on national language assessment and strong support for that. Need to say other languages are legitimate and support learning English. Assess reading in native language – can be reading proficiency not in English. NCLB does not speak to native language instruction and assessment. NCLB legitimizes the inferior status of minority groups based on mainstream, English. Yes, learn English, content can be in any language. English cannot be measuring stick.
Every major organization supports native language instruction: IRA, NCTE, NAEYC, TESOL, NABE, etc – but they are not used as a resource. Need to provide native language instruction and connect to kids lives, hold systems accountable for that.
Accountability must look at schools' responsiveness to learners.
Need accountability at the state level. If you don't have a person at state level to be sure school district is accountable.
Work toward holding states and districts accountable.
There is no data on the graduates of ELL bilingual programs.
We need a reality-based policy. Find out truth and base policy on that. How long does it really take to learn English? The kids are often not in the system long enough to find out – they leave.
The Hispanic caucus was mildly supportive of NCLB, said would end the hiding of achievement gaps. These folks don't understand the way the law works. LEP always below by definition – if meet the standard, are not included. Now they are ready to look at major changes – but they do not want a system that does not count, find gaps; they want something.
Convey damage that bad accountability causes. Some in Congress say either must be punitive or we are giving excuses. A program in Oregon that is excellent, but 70 percent of students are ELL and now they face sanctions. We have to look at inputs and outputs.
We are losing public relations in the ELL area, even among parents, the media is too strong. New NABE will play an active and important role in reversing this. We are setting up an advisory committee on this, and need support.
We should have NABE town hall meetings in Congressional districts. Score card on members.

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