Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are Florida tests unfair to non-English-speaking students? Some say yes

Decades of research on bilingualism and biliteracy, as well as on the validity and fairness of these tests across diverse contexts that we know are further enmeshed in political and policy struggles where powerful interests and capital are concentrated—attest to this very question being more an issue of politics than evidence.

The narrative is what has to change, alongside narrative power. Both simultaneously. That is, we all must open ourselves to the wide, breathtaking diversity of experience, knowledge, and ways of knowing at the same time that we must honor the specific journeys that our communities have to take in their process, in their unfolding.


Are Florida tests unfair to non-English-speaking students? Some say yes

Lost in Translation

  • Wekiva High School junior Walfrank Pieiro shows off some of the awards he has won, on Tuesday, August 6, 2013. Walfrank, who has been in the United States after moving from Cuba about two years ago, is an honor roll student and star pitcher for his high school. An academic mentor of his thinks he would have passed if the test (FCAT) was translated into Spanish, as about a dozen other states do.
Wekiva High School junior Walfrank Pieiro shows off some of… (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda,…)
September 7, 2013|By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel
Walfrank Piñeiro has been on the honor roll every semester since emigrating from Cuba two years ago. He's earned awards for academic excellence at the school, district and state level.
Despite the accolades, the 15-year-old has been unable to pass state exams in math, his strongest subject. He recently failed a retake of the crucial Algebra I exam by three points.
He has been tripped up repeatedly by word problems that educators concede measure reading as much as math skills.
"I think it should be just numbers," the Wekiva High junior said of the algebra test, which is a Florida graduation requirement. "We're talking about math."
In Florida, more than 250,000 students like Walfrank are considered English-language learners, third nationally behind California and Texas. But Texas and more than a dozen other states give students a chance to take state exams in their native language.
"These tests are not measuring, to the full extent, the students' knowledge of the content," said Charlene Rivera, research professor and executive director of George Washington University's Center for Equity and Excellence in Education.
As Florida and most other states head toward a shared curriculum called Common Core, parents, advocates and experts are pushing for new tests that will reflect what these students know more accurately than state exams like Florida's FCAT. The League of United Latin American Citizens, a national group, wants Spanish versions of these tests to be developed at the same time.
Federal law requires states to test nearly every English-language learner except those who have been in the country less than a year. And while Florida gives extra credit to districts where new English learners improve performance, the consequences of depressed scores can snowball to the school and district level.
Last year, 91 percent of English-language learners in Florida and in Orange County failed the 10th Grade Reading FCAT — including Walfrank Piñero. This is not a new problem. State data shows Florida's English-language learners have been struggling in English and math since at least 2004.
But the stakes are high for the state's 2.7 million English learners, including about 43,000 in Central Florida. Statewide, about 1 in 4 Hispanic students is considered an English learner.
Last year, a task force convened by the state Board of Education recommended changing the state's grading system to factor students' English proficiency levels into FCAT results. The recommendation was not adopted.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test students in the language most likely to "yield valid results," when possible.

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