Failure is almost guaranteed for four- and five-year-olds who take California’s test to identify “English Learners,” I write on Pajamas Media. 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., concludes a new study by Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. 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.
Children that young can’t handle a two-hour test, the researchers say. 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.
Schools get more money for English Learners, which provides an incentive to identify as many children as possible and keep them in the program, even when they test as proficient on CELDT. Few children are in bilingual classes these days, but some schools hire aides who provide help in children’s native language — or what’s supposed to be their native language. Many are pulled out of class for instruction in basic English.