08 June 2010


As mandated by the state, A1 has been scheduled to take the California English Language Development Test as a requirement for Kindergarten entrance. The one-on-one examination process will steal one hour of his time and what I imagine to be a sizable sum of school district dollars.

Never mind that his general fund of knowledge, in addition to the fluidity with which he communicates that fund, exceeds that of same-aged native speakers. Forget that at barely 5, he can read novel, complex words and spell phonetically regular two to four letter words with ease. Ignore his own mother's assurances of his English proficiency.

So what, you might ask, is the single criterion for testing? It is self-reporting that English is not the primary language spoken at home!

This criterion was in effect when I was a child in a neighboring school district and its logic escaped me then as it escapes me now. I had friends who lied about the primary language spoken at home so that they could forgo testing. And then there I was--too honorable (or, more likely, too stubborn) to lie when the annual survey was sent home. This hardheadedness landed me in regular ESL testing.

Those who know me are certainly aware that I loathe playing the race card. But the assumption that choosing to use one's native tongue precludes the attainment of English proficiency is simply a racist one.

And while I'm completely riled up, I will also add that the prompt on race/ethnicity option on this survey form was, "Pick ONE." I surmised that I was being requested to check the Asian box, so I abruptly and willingly complied. It left knots in my stomach. It made me cry...out of sadness and out of rage. That this level of marginalization would happen in one of the most liberal states defies the fact that the proportion of bi- and multi-racial children is exploding.

I should have checked the Caucasian box. It would have been equally (in)valid.


Rachel S. said...

It made you pick only one race/ethnicity!?! Was there an "other" box that you could check to write in the appropriate combo? There is no way I'd choose which ethnicity to mark my kids!

For A1s exam, maybe it's possible he'll get a reasonable-minded examiner who will realize after 5 minutes the pointlessness of administering the rest of the test...

LH said...

Hey Rach, no, no "other" box--just the option to pick ONE. That is ludicrous in this day and age!

I spoke with his examiner and her supervisor. It is state law that they must administer the test fully. Given his English level, they project the process will take about 50 minutes.

Are you kidding me? 50 minutes of a 5-year-old sitting still being grilled one question after the next?!?

Caroline said...

Lam - I saw your post on Facebook and decided to snoop to your blog to read more. This ESL testing rule is REDICULOUS! I acknowledge that they have to prep themselves for the kiddos - but CERTAINLY a couple of minutes with the child should be more than enough in MOST cases. This is only kinder after all. And what exactly would they do if they determined that the child didn't have enough grasp of the English language? I'm thinking at Loma Vista they'd just pop the child in the 8:30 kinder session rather than the 11:30 session. Once they're in school they'll figure out pretty quickly whether the child needs extra support. OHHHHHH!!! And of course like you said, there's the whole cost of the thing. UNBELIEVEABLE!!!! Personally (based on my limited experience with elementary school) I think if they feel a burning need to test, they should test the parents.... (sorry - venting here).

Gus will do fine. If he has a hard time with the test process (an HOUR?!!?!? I wonder how many kids are actually subjected to this each year) I am sure he will demonstrate his grasp of the language just fine. And I hope he just has fun with the rest of it. I hope they don't spend a lot of time trying to impress him with the fact that it's a test. Wouldn't it be funny if Gus didn't do well - and then the district tried to spend even more money to bring his language up to speed? I wonder how often that happens and how long it would go on for before someone clued-in ...

After all we've been through with the school district, I think this tops everything.

LH said...

Caroline, please please feel free to "snoop" on this blog any time you want! That would skyrocket my readership up from 3 people to 4 people! ;)

As for testing cost, why can't all kids enter Kinder and based on a week's worth of observation, allow for a select number identified by the teacher for further testing?

According to the examiner (who, btw, spoke perfectly eloquent English but taught her children their native Spanish at home--so it was like preaching to the choir with her), those who do not exhibit English proficiency who be provided with her individual time with the teacher and other targeted programs.

And that ticks me off on a whole other level.

I entered grade school during the middle of 1st grade (in Maryland, which didn't have such an analogous screening process at that time) having spoken _ZERO_ English! I recall the process of learning English and the complete lack of struggle. I was totally fluent by 4-6 months without any special attention whatsoever.

Bilingual education is an insanely racist notion. Because when you think of bilingual education, you think of half English/half Spanish classrooms. So I, the little girl from Vietnam, or the boy from Lithuania or Italy or Germany are all smart enough to pick up English without specialized educational material in our native tongue, but for some reason, that Spanish speakers would be stumped otherwise? That is the white male establishment deciding that Mexican are slow learners. And it is horrifyingly racist.

Wow, Caroline, who's venting now? Sorry, I get carried away. :)

Caroline said...

I entered nursery school like Pre-k) in Toronto speaking only Polish. I don't remember those days, but I know I didn't have any special help and I did very well in grade school. I think little kids typically don't have trouble with languages. When I told him about this Rob just rolled his eyes and made a comment about how everything has to be done SO "carefully" so that no one is offended. So offensive! I will be curious to know how it goes.

Michi said...

That is annoying that there's no "other" box. I could maybe, maybe, understand 20 years ago but these days? Stupid.

You hit on the same annoyances I have when it comes to bilingual education. I hate the idea of it, think it should be done away with in the public schools.

LH said...

@Rach @Mich I actually tried to hand back the form without checking any of the race boxes. They handed it back to me and told me it was incomplete. I have no words that adequately describe my feelings!

@Caroline I can't believe bilingual Spanish education is the PC thing when Mexican Americans should be livid that the establishment relegates their children to menial jobs where English isn't required. When was the last time any of America's Fortune 500 companies held their Board meetings in Spanish? Strangely, some of the biggest proponents for bilingual Spanish education have been my Mexican American friends. I simply don't understand the logic behind it!

Ivan Chan Studio said...

Institutions are stoopid and slow.

I'm sorry this hurt, enraged, insulted, and otherwise disrespected you and your family--again.

ms.thai said...

Well I skimmed through the comments and I wanted to add onto the "other" box comment, some people find this offending because by choosing "other" it's as if they aren't included as a regular person. Instead they would prefer an actual option of "Bi/Multi-racial." I went to a human relationships camp in high school, now called CCEJ (California Conference for Equality and Justice), that was based on mostly racism but also other oppressions. I know there are other camps but this is the main one for Long Beach schools (about 5 schools meet up for a weekend in the mountains), plus two others that the school holds for their selves. Well that was OT but yeah, I think whoever makes forms asking about race should add "Bi/Multi-racial." Also, it's race not ethnicity [: ethnicity refers to specific like French, German, Chinese, etc. -yeah, I'm very.. into this topic about race, ethnicity, etc.. haha

Anonymous said...

Lam, your blog came up while I was doing research online. I am one of those 'examiners', actually a fully-credentialed teacher in the state of CA, who administers the CELDT at my school. A new teacher, but not a young one, the part-time ELL position is not my ideal, but the state of CA, and the teacher's union, is making it VERY difficult to find full-time work. Nevertheless, in our district, CELDT is administered to any child whose Home Language Survey (HLS) indicates there is another language spoken in the home. By CA law, we have to test the child and the CELDT is the test CA has chosen to use. The test is long. I administer it over several days as to minimize the stress on the child. It is given to all students k-12 who have not previously met the guidelines to be exited from the program. If a kindergartner scores high enough, and it sounds like A1 would have, he/she will be designated Initially Fluent English Proficient and that's the end. Please know you can ask me any questions regarding this test and I'll do my best to answer them.

Lam said...

Hello "Anonymous", my apologies for the lengthy delay--I should have responded to your wonderful comment and generous offer of assistance sooner.

I absolutely agree with you that the exam is lengthy and unduly stressful for youngsters who have yet to enter Kindergarten, as was the case for A1. But I wonder about the staggered administration that you apply and how it might affect the interpretation of scaled scores as the exam was standardized for block administration instead. It would seem that drawing out the exam time inflates the scores because the fatigue factor has been extracted. While it is advantageous for those students fortunate enough to have had you as a CELDT administrator, this advantage seems unfair to those whose administrators who are more concerned about test standardization. Or perhaps I am misinterpreting your altered techniques. Were these alterations to the original test instructions encouraged by your district or the State in general?

Anonymous said...

State wide 95% of incoming Kinders who take the test get labeled as English language learners

But when they finally tested their test against a representative population of English-only children 75% ended up labeled as English language learners! A screening test with a 75% false positive rate is... not doing what it purports to do (identify kids who cannot function in a mainstream class).

Once labeled, a child will get shunted into special English language development classes with other ELLs, probably at least until 3rd grade (state guidelines require STAR test results). IMO not much better than the bad old bilingual classes.