The test in question |

The test in question

by Reid Williams

FARMER1S KORNER<Jim Skvorc asks his class if there are any more questions on the social studies lesson he1s just concluded and, seeing no hands in the air, tells them, 3OK, take out a sheet of paper. We1re having a quiz.Suddenly, there are questions, and even more groans.Students aren1t known for their fondness of tests. The 16 students in Skvorc1s high school class are no different in that respect. They are different, however, in that none of them claim English as their native language. They hail from many parts of Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American countries, as well as one native of Georgia, the former Soviet republic.The pupils1 background is important, considering the test question: 3Explain how a bill becomes a law in Congress. All the students know about the topic is what they heard, watched and read in the three days before, and their answers are expected in English.3Most of us grew up having seen the OSchoolhouse Rock1 video, Skvorc said, holding the box to the videotape edition of the animated story of a 3Bill on Capitol Hill that ran in between Saturday morning cartoons in the 180s and 190s. 3They1ve never seen it until now.The social studies quiz provides a brief example of the challenges students face on longer, more intense tests, such as the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, tests. Summit students took the state-madated assessments in reading, writing, mathematics and science over the past two weeks. About half of the school district1s 405 students in English as a Second Language (ESL) took the CSAP tests, as well as former ESL students who have officially exited the program because they are considered English-proficient.The number of ESL students taking the test is important, according to teachers. The student CSAP scores are factored into a composite score which is published for the community; some parents and educators worry that low scores by students who aren1t proficient enough in English to show their academic competency will reflect poorly on the schoolwide test average. The CSAP scores factor into school report cards, or accountability reports. If a school does not have enough students score proficient on the test, and the trend continues for three years, the state can take over the school and reassign faculty. Although Summit Schools aren1t in danger of this, it1s a worry.3Some of us understand why it1s important<the teachers explain why and tell us to try our best, said Cynthia Leal, a Summit High School freshman three years out of Mexico. 3But then the students don1t try as hard, because they know it1s bad for the teacher.Learning differentlyTeachers advise the ESL students and their families in advance of the CSAP tests. In addition to a state-produced list of frequently asked questions in Spanish, the teachers send home a letter to parents explaining what the tests are, what the student can expect and why the scores matter. At least one student says the pressure can backfire.3I think the problem is you don1t care, but you know you should, ninth-grader Veroica Nogueda said. 3For some of us, we1re afraid if we do good, we1ll get more homework or they1ll put us in harder classes, and we might not be ready.The Colorado Department of Education stipulates that any ESL student who has been in the state for three consecutive years must take the CSAP tests. CSAP rules allow ESL students with less than three years1 residency to take the test if they1re proficient in English. All ESL students who take the tests also are allowed the help they receive in class, such as having instructions explained or translated. The state also makes Spanish versions of the test, but only for third and fourth grades.ESL teachers worry how well non-native speakers will do on the English test because of what they see as a difference between oral proficiency and academic proficiency. A student from Japan may be able to speak English well after one year. Full proficiency<speaking, reading and writing, and the ability to critically analyze materials specific to the subject<may not develop for up to seven years.Many of the high school ESL students who took the CSAP tests, however, say the test was easy.3It depends how much you put into it yourself, said Pablo Miranda, a sophomore who came from Mexico five years ago. 3The test was all right; I thought it was harder this year, actually.Miranda is reading Shakespeare1s 3A Midsummer Night1s Dream in his non-ESL English class. He said his growing English fluency is causing the linguistic parts of his brain to go haywire, slipping Spanish and English phrases into his sentences before he realizes he1s mixing the two. But, the Elizebethan English of Shakespeare1s day is a new challenge, and he said he1s picking it up, too.The hardest part of the CSAP tests, he said, is mathematics.3It1s harder than English, Miranda said. 3I don1t know why. I never had English in Mexico, but I was very good in math. Then I come here and it1s hard. There1s something different about it.Are ESL students given enough time to acclimate to their new home and the language spoken here? The debate goes on, and Summit ESL coordinator Sarah Cox says it1s too soon to tell.3We really can1t say what the average time is for our students to become proficient, Cox said. 3The program hasn1t been around long enough. The CSAP tests started in 1998, and we1re collecting more data every year. We1re going to learn a lot down the road.Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or

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