Making it in English

At low-performing Lawrence High in Massachusetts, two sets of twin sisters from immigrant families — Dominican and Vietnamese — are headed for the Ivy League. The Boston Globe reports:

Cristina and Karina Ovalles — twin daughters of a Dominican immigrant — are headed to Harvard University after years of disciplined studying and a firm nudge from their mother and a school counselor. Meanwhile, their friends, Van and Tu Le , twin sisters who emigrated from Vietnam to Lawrence 10 years ago with their parents, will head to Brown University in Providence.

The Les’ father works in a metal shop; their mother works at a microchip factory. Neither speaks much English. They consider “A” the only acceptable grade.

“To me it doesn’t really matter what school I go to, because wherever I go to in Lawrence, it’s going to be better than Vietnam,” says Van, a baby-faced 19-year-old. “I don’t look at Lawrence and say ‘wow, this is a bad city.’ It’s my way out. It’s my opportunity to succeed.”

Van graduated fourth in the class, Tu was third and the Ovalles sisters were co-valedictorians. Their mother is a cafeteria worker who speaks little English. Like the Le parents, she pushed her children to study hard and excel.

The Vietnamese twins attended an English-language class for Asian immigrants in first and second grade before joining the mainstream. The Dominican girls started in Spanish-language classes and moved to English mainstream classes in second grade.

“English Learners” in California will be tested in English, ruled Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, in response to a lawsuit by eight school districts. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports:

The lawsuit claims that testing students only in English does not accurately measure their abilities because they get many questions wrong simply because they don’t understand English, which makes it harder to do word problems in math or show mastery of grammar.

No Child Left Behind lets states to test students in their native languages for up to three years, but California requires Spanish-speaking students to take the tests after one year.

Typically, English Learners do much better in math than in reading or writing on state exams. When California students graduate to “fluent English proficient” status, their scores are counted in the EL category until they’ve tested as proficient in English language arts for three years in a row. So the EL category used for state and federal accountability includes students who’ve mastered English, those who’ve been learning in English for years and newcomers enrolled for more than 12 months.

For more, see my Lexington Institute paper, “How Good is Good Enough: Moving California’s English Learners to English Proficiency.” Or read my book, Our School, about a charter high school that prepares students from Mexican immigrant families for four-year colleges.

Update: This story on rising test scores for eighth graders in New York City notes that New York has been forced by the feds to give immigrant students the same test, in English, as their classmates. Scores are down in elementary school because of the inclusion of English Learners. I predict attention to EL’s learning needs will rise.

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  1. BadaBing says:

    Let the postmodernist, anti-American, multiculturalist brainwashing begin.

  2. Not that I’m not impressed with the twins’ accomplishments, but I can’t get behind this attitude of “A” being the only acceptable grade. (And NO, I’m not promoting mediocrity, but there’s a difference between wanting your child to excel and getting upset because your kid gets the occasional B.)

  3. Notice that both sets of twins developed literacy in their L1 before transitioning to English (L2).

  4. The Vietnamese sisters were in an ESL class before mainstreaming. I’m not sure they learned to read in Vietnamese, unless their parents taught them. The Dominican sisters apparently did kindergarten and first grade in Spanish. Since they’re so smart, I assume they learned to read in Spanish before transitioning.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    I believe the Seattle schools once considered such world views racist. Future orientation, task completion, and such tools of the EuroAmerican patriarchy.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    I was hoping one of the sets of twins was boys. I was disappointed but not surprised.