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Failure Guaranteed

Why are California schools so eager to classify 4- and 5-year-olds as English Learners? Just follow the money.

by
Joanne Jacobs

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September 27, 2011 - 12:04 am
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Failure is almost guaranteed for four- and five-year-olds who take California’s test to identify “English Learners,” concludes a new study by Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research.

Only 12 percent of entering kindergartners who take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) are deemed fluent in English, even though 85 percent were born in the U.S.  Outside of Los Angeles, the CELDT pass rate is 6 percent.

One in three California elementary students is classified as an English Learner. That’s because schools are misidentifying large numbers of children, conclude Berkeley Education Professor Lisa García Bedolla and researcher Rosaisela Rodriguez.  As a result, teaching and tutoring resources are spread thin: Some kids are taught skills they already know, while others don’t get enough help.

It all starts with the home language survey, which asks about the child’s first language, the language he or she speaks most often at home, the languages the adults speak at home, and what language the parents speak most often with their child.

If Mom mentions a language other than English — or in addition to English — the child will be given the nearly unpassable CELDT, the researchers find.

Maybe Grandma lives with the family and speaks Spanish?  A five-year-old will be given a two-hour test which requires him to talk to a stranger with no parent in the room.

A two-hour test is too much for children that young, say García Bedolla and Rodriguez. Observers report children crying and hiding under chairs or tables.  CELDT, which keeps getting longer, has added reading and writing questions for children who haven’t started kindergarten.

I guess that 12 percent pass rate was too high.

Most ELs are taught in mainstream classrooms, but they’re usually pulled out of class for instruction in basic English. Some schools provide aides to tutor ELs in what’s supposed to be their home language. A few still offer bilingual classes, especially for K-3 students.

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