Accountability fail

A highly rated New York City teacher who moves to a low-rated school will get an asterisk on her new ratings, writes teacher Arthur Goldstein in an open letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

“Doesn’t that indicate that the test scores are determined more by students themselves as opposed to teachers?” he asks.

Goldstein teaches English as a Second Language to immigrant students who tend to do badly on standardized tests. It would be “irresponsible of me to neglect . . . basic conversation and survival skills,” yet the test focuses on academic English.

Teaching ESL or special education is a high-risk specialty, Goldstein argues.

Attaching high stakes to test scores places undue pressure on high-needs kids to pass tests for which they are unsuited. For years I’ve been hearing about differentiation in instruction. I fail to see how this approach can be effectively utilized when there is no differentiation whatsoever in assessment. It’s as though we’re determined to punish both the highest needs children and their teachers.

Teacher morale has “taken a nose dive” because of high-stakes evaluations, he writes.

Accountability can backfire, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week.

When states decided to track and publish surgeons’ success rates, the very best surgeons took fewer high-risk cases, according to several studies.

Rating teachers by their students’ performance poses the same risk, argues Tucker. Instead of rewarding good teachers, it may reward teachers with good students and penalize those who teach the most challenging students.

He imagines a top teacher who leaves her suburban school for a high-poverty school. The work is much harder. “Your students’ scores on the state tests may not go up much, but you know what you have done for a number of these kids has spelled the difference between a chance for a future and none at all,” Tucker writes. But the teacher earns a very low rating and other experienced teachers decide that teaching the neediest kids is too much of a risk.

Value-added measures are supposed to compare students’ past performance, so teachers aren’t penalized for teaching low-performing kids. But it’s not clear that the measures are reliable — especially for the many teachers who don’t teach subjects that are tested.

Parents lie to avoid English Learner label

Eager to keep their children in mainstream classes, parents are lying on surveys designed to identify “English Learners,” reports AP.

If anyone in the family speaks a language other than English, the child will be given an English proficiency test. Some four- and five-year-olds are too shy to speak to a strange interviewer, even if English is their only language. Only 9 percent of new kindergarteners pass.

Once classified as an English Learner, it’s hard to shed the label. Some students remain ELs from kindergarten through high school.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nieves Garcia came from Mexico at age 6 and spent most of her elementary school years in California classified as an “English learner” even after she had picked up the language. Now a 32-year-old mother, she didn’t want her daughter labeled the same way and subjected to additional testing.

And so she lied.

When Garcia signed up her daughter for kindergarten, she answered a standard four-question survey by saying her family spoke only English at home, even though her husband doesn’t speak the language.

“I just said we spoke English, English, English and English,” Garcia said.

Parents like Garcia fear that by acknowledging the truth, their kids will be siphoned off from native English speakers or stigmatized, and could miss out on learning opportunities.

In elementary school, English Learners typically are pulled out of mainstream classes for English as a Second Language instruction.

Parents fear their children will be placed in less-demanding courses in middle and high school if they’re considered English Learners.

Earlier this year, Tesha Sengupta-Irving, an education professor in Orange County, registered her son for kindergarten. At the time, her parents were visiting and she was speaking to them in their native tongue, Bengali, so she wrote on her survey that the language was spoken at home.

Her son, who knew but a few words in Bengali, was tested and classified as an English learner. She said the results were ironic since she had tirelessly tried to pass the language on to him and still he spoke only English.

The survey “is catching too many kids,” said the professor.

Lexington: Fix adult ESL

Adult classes in English aren’t helping immigrants (and some native-born English Language Learners) very much, concludes a Lexington Institute report. It’s believed only 40 percent of adult ESL improve their proficiency level.

While most adult ESL is taught at community colleges and school district adult education programs, Lexington advocates more flexible approaches being developed by community organizations, adult charter schools and employers.

For example, Los Angeles-based PUENTE Learning Center uses blended learning to individualize instruction and track student progress toward proficiency. The result is consistently lower drop-out rates and proficiency improvements than the national average. In one year (2005), fully 85% of learners advanced in proficiency compared to the national average of 40%.

Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Washington, DC is another example of a community-based program achieving strong results.

In addition, federal, state and local policymakers should gather “rigorous and useful data” and reward programs that accelerate language learning, Lexington recommends.

I’d bet more immigrants are going online to improve their English fluency. USA Learns, which is funded by the U.S. and California Education Departments, is free.

ESL prof invents ‘chatbot’ to teach English

An English as a Second Language instructor’s “chatbot” is helping immigrant students practice their English.

Also on Community College Spotlight: While college presidents say online courses are as good as traditional instruction, the public is skeptical.