Tuesday, November 06, 2007

ELD Transgressions

I got a flyer, someone left a message with the front office because I can't remember to empty my voicemail -- it filled up in Spring 2005, and this is no lie -- so I went. I went to the ELD meeting, in full possession of as much of an open mind as its probably possible to maintain at this point. I went to the meeting entitled "ELD/ Newcomer" and tried to be excited about an expanded teacher role in things. I went, and it's always an iffy process to write about things so close to home, but aw man, we're messing up so bad.

We're messing up on reclassification of ELLs. Check out the California Department of Education's Suggested Steps for Reclassification and then dig on the fact that we've been requiring a far more rigorous standard than the state suggests. We require higher CST performance as well as a proficient score on the notoriously flawed 7th grade STAR Writing Exam. This is a test that EO students fail in mother f-ing droves. In droves, and we're asking ELL kids to score proficient before we'll classify them as no longer requiring instruction in the English language, a distinction critical for future university matriculation.

When I asked why we do this, why, as a district of ELLs, we make it more difficult for our students to achieve success, folks first commiserated with me regarding the difficulty of the test by proclaiming that only two students passed in the whole district. This seems strange, because cruncher tells me that almost a dozen of my students from my classes alone passed. If that many kids from the lowest group of 7th graders in the District passed, my guess is the pass rate is somewhat higher than two kids. And man oh man, the frequency of District employees making demonstrably inaccurate statements regarding student achievement is increasing exponentially.

I was then told that perhaps this requirement will be ammended (good), but that it was in place in order to maintain high expectations. High expectations. Okay, turn your attention to the screen and we'll run a short presentation on why rigorous standards in the absence of appropriate support is not a demonstration of high expectations but rather the systematic screwing-over of the largest student group in the District.

We're messing up on writing. At the meeting I heard that we're in year-five of Step Up To Writing implementation. No, we're not. We haven't paced the strategies across grade levels, lack the use of these strategies in content areas, and do not have anything remotely like universal or even wide-spread use. One participant said these strategies were pretty much absent from her entire school.

But because we're in so-called year-five of implementation, and becaues only two students passed the most recent STAR Writing Exam, Step Up To Writing must be failure and we should return to Six Traits. No, no, no, no, no. I'm sure Six Traits is swell with the kids from Cupertino, who learned to construct paragraphs in second grade, full essays by fifth, and are working on rounding things into shape by the time that seventh grade STAR Writing comes round. That's not who we teach. Look at Six Traits. It's all about voice and style and presentation. There's nothing there on direct instruction. There's nothing there that teaches kids to actually put these required essays together. I can't believe this is even part of the discussion. My kids need to learn about topic sentences, arugment structure, organizational strategies, and internal consistency. "Sentence fluency?" How about sentence existence?

We're messing up on our understanding of ELD. They said, fill out the paper telling us when you teach ELD.

I wrote 7:30 -- 3:00.

ELD is not a period. It is not pull-out. It is not a class. It is not something that ELA teachers do. It is not derived from a book. It is not a minor subset of our work with kids. It is not High Point Basics, and it sure as hell isn't Language!. It is not wholly contained within the domains of the read-aloud and lowering the affective filter.

English Language Development is an approach to providing kids with necessary skills that stretches across every classroom, every subject, every schedule creating process. Until we get past the idea that ELD can be done in 45-minute chunks, while the rest of the day we maintain grossly irresponsible and inequitable educational offerings in the misguided pursuit of high expectations, we're f-ing doomed. Speaking of...

We're messing up newcomer centers. The CDE reports that in our district last year there were 183 students, grades 2-8 with less than 12 months residency in the U.S. Throw in K-1, and we're talking 240. We have two newcomer centers, but none on the elementary level. Even assuming that these newcomer centers are operating at absurdly packed capacity, we're still failing to serve 200 or so young people.

Except there's more, really. Because newcomer centers are designed for kids with 18 months residency and below, we're talking about half again as many kids. That's 300 kids, 250 of whom fail to receive appropriate instruction.

Except there's more, really. Because when you fail to provide kids with the instruction they need when they have less than 18 months residency, they continue to function as newcomers, even when they no longer qualify as such. Those skills don't magically appear, no matter how hard you close your eyes, click your heels, and hope Open Court weaves its magic. So we're really talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 kids with newcomer level skills, 550 of whom do not receive appropriate instruction. Most of them are Jorge.

Except there's more, really. Because when you force lower elementary classrooms to serve the purpose newcomer centers are meant to, you delay the skill and language acquisition of entire sets of kindergarten and first graders. Because these students are not removed from the general population to receive the specialized instruction their academic profile demands, you force teachers in heterogenous environments to reduce the scope and pace of instruction. You then produce life-long CELDT 3s, as well as non-SpEd EOs with a perpetual 3rd grade reading ability.

The solution? A pilot program -- as if the two existing newcomer centers do not provide sufficient opportunities for analysis -- that consists of a 45-minute pull-out period for fifth graders, after which they'll spend the rest of their day with Saxon Math and Open Court Reading, which is written on a sixth grade reading level. There will be close to 30 kids in a class, and no other opportunities for homogeneous grouping.

At the meeting I said: When your pilot program fails, will this failure be used to justify not having newcomer centers in the future, or will the failure get us to realize that pull-out and part time is not the answer?

Vegas insiders say they can't get any action on the latter option.


Blogger Ms. M said...

I am an ESL teacher from NYC and I am curious to know more about the newcomer center. What is it exactly and how does it work? I have heard of a few newcomer high schools in NYC but I am not sure if it is the same thing.

Is there anything that is working for the teaching of ELLs in California? I feel like here in NYC no one has any clue about what to do. It is pretty much every teacher for him/herself. Our dual language programs seem to be the best but that obviously won't work for every student.

I teach a pull-out program in an elementary school and the 360 minutes a week (in theory) that I see my newcomers is definitely not enough.

8:40 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

I'm curious if you have ever heard of the "Four Square" approach to teaching students how to write a five paragraph essay. When I was "allowed" to teach it a few years ago, I actually had students tell me that they finally understood how to write an essay. This coming from my 6th graders, many of which were ELL's.

Now we are being told to only use the Holt curriculum to teach our kids how to write. When you look at their writer's workshops, they are ten to fifteen pages of very dry reading. The writing curriculum is for those students who, imo, already have a very good idea of what writing a paragraph looks like and thus, can transition to writing a five paragraph essay.

6:37 PM  
Blogger AnthonyCody said...

Let's leave behind the debate over whether or not NCLB is working or can work, and take a look at the paradigm we have moved into. Our current model says that teaching and policy decisions should be guided by data, and data is defined by various test scores. However, that data is limited in several important ways. First of all, there is the quality and appropriateness and depth of the tests themselves. The tests are rarely measuring in the ways we want our students to think and perform, and are often not well aligned with our instruction, as your experience with ELLs is demonstrating. Furthermore, the data is often of low quality -- inaccurate on its face. But that does not seem to prevent people from using it for critical decisions.

I feel that teachers should be much more involved in meaningful classroom-based assessment. That assessment should be tied to the skills and knowledge we desire most, and built upon to determine real student progress.

I believe the current paradigm assumes that teachers are incapable of accurate assessment of student progress, and therefore the only data that can be relied upon for decisions such as who moves up or out of ELL status are these externally generated ones. The gross flaws in these measurement instruments are simply overlooked, because there is no alternative but to use them. I think it is time teachers articulated alternatives, in the form of systematic formative and summative assessments, anchored in daily practice, reflecting high quality learning, demonstrated through measurable achievements in various forms. We have a huge task to educate the public and policy-makers about what quality work looks like, but until we do, we are stuck with the low-quality assessments we have now.

8:07 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi Anthony,

I have two thoughts.

1) Has it been your experience that a majority of teachers can be trusted on the individual level to supply that data?

2) Teachers cannot claim more autonomy until they give up contractual protections like tenure, and absurd evaluation practices. There's a quid-pro-quo thing going on here, where we all need to give back some job security to gain some job autonomy.

10:25 PM  

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