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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Should Newcomers have to Pass the WASL?

There were two recent articles about the subject of immigrant students and WASL requirements. This article about Dr. Bergeson's efforts on this front appeared in today's Times. The other article appeared in the Times earlier in the week about teachers who know their students are passing classes but cannot pass the WASL. Part of argument seems to be whether these students should be treated like special ed students who get different measures of assessment.

From the second article:

"For those who are recent immigrants, however, she's not sure what to do. No matter how hard they work, she says, most haven't been in the country long enough to have much — if any — chance of passing a 10th-grade exam in English.

And that, she says, is "extremely unfair."

That's a sentiment shared by many of her colleagues in Seattle and across the state who are concerned about the roughly 2,000 students who probably won't graduate because they don't know enough English.

"If you or I lived in a country less than one year, we'd never pass," said Sid Glass, Douglas' counterpart at Ballard High. "There has to be some accommodation for these students."

It's also a sentiment questioned by those who think that students shouldn't earn a diploma until they can demonstrate the required skills in reading, writing and math — in English.

"In truth, if they go out there with a diploma, and they're clearly four to five years behind, what will that diploma really do for them?" asked Ricardo Sanchez, board chairman of the nonprofit Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP)."

Some facts from the article:

"Students who are learning English have a lower passage rate on the WASL than any other group reported — including students in special education (who have more options), and students who live in poverty."

"Starting this school year, however, all students, with the exception of some in special-education programs, also must pass reading and writing on the 10th-grade WASL, or an approved alternative, to earn a diploma. (They must pass an additional math class if they fail math on the WASL.)"

"When it comes to evaluating schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law, even the state superintendent's office has tried to convince the U.S. Department of Education that WASL scores of immigrant students shouldn't be counted for up to three years. But diplomas are a different matter." This is an important point for this discussion because since No Child Left Behind got no reforms in Congress (because no one could get a bill to the floor), these standards remain in place.

Well, I'm kind of with Charlie - could they pass the GED? If so, then they can have a diploma.

Here's some questions:

- what, if any, accommodations should these students receive?

- what do we want students to be able to do when they leave high school? Meaning, what do we, as a society, want them to be able to do? Be citizens? Be trained for a job? Be ready for college? Should it depend on what classes you take in high school? Many countries have kids take a track in high school (Germany for one) and no one bats an eye. But the kids and their parents choose. I don't think they are assigned.

From the first article:

"Bergeson also doesn't favor allowing immigrant students to graduate without passing reading and writing on the 10th-grade WASL, which is an option for some special-education students. It's also the policy in other states, such as Minnesota, where students who are learning English don't have to pass the state exit exam if they've been in the country for less than three years before graduation."

My husband immigrated to the US from Italy when he was 9. He said it was pretty difficult for him in school for the first couple of years. Imagine being a teenager with the pressure of not just learning English but proving it on a test for a piece of paper that is considered vital to being American.

Dr. Bergeson wants to throw a lot of money at the problem; maybe it will work. One thing that should be part of any effort is helping these immigrant communities - not just the students - understand that it is vital to support their students. It doesn't mean leaving your culture behind but accepting that living successfully in the US means you have to learn English. Our school system, however, has got to understand the data that it takes 3-7 years to become "academically-able" in another language.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Being treated like a special ed students isn't really all that great. First of all, 93% fail either the WASL or the WAAS. And 70% of them are cognitively normal or better... so that's a huge number of kids who aren't going to graduate that should be graduating. 2% of all students in special education are permitted to take the WAAS and get a worthless diploma. It is the so-called "Certificate of Individual Acheivement". Not at all the same as a "Certificate of Academic Acheivement". No ELL student would want that.

Anonymous said...

But if a special education student earns a CIA and meets the other requirements (min gpa, credits), he or she gets a diploma and graduates. That isn't worthless in comparison to getting nothing.

Am excuse me for asking, but what do you mean by "cognitively normal or better?" Last I checked, the vast majority of students with disabilities have health imparments that impact thier ability to gain an education, which certainly much broader than being a student that has a cognative issue

Anonymous said...

The GED. Now, that is a good test. It covers a broad range of subjects, in depth, is generally considered pretty fair, and has been used to grant high school diplomas for years.

Why don't we just scrap the 10th grade WASL, and make all high school diploma-seekers take the GED?

Anonymous said...

At the rate of WASL AND WAAS passage rate, only 7% of the special education students in Washington state will be elligible for either the CIA OR the CAA. Now what??? The CIA, is slated to limit access to many post-secondary programs... rendering it almost worthless. And pretty worthless if you're really ELL.

Health Impairment = ADHD/ADD.

At least, most people in the Health Impairment category are ADHD because there is no ADHD category... which is why the category is so large. True ADHD presents without cognitive impairment. So, it's pretty bad if these people are failing to graduate.