|Day 2 of 31 days of writing!|
I glanced down at the paragraph-long essay prompt inside the red box. "I'm sorry, I can't help you with any of the questions..."
"But I don't understand what I have to do!!!" His punched-out words and panicked eyes pierced me with an accusatory look, as if I were directly responsible for this torture. Gesturing futilely at the cumbersome, cursory word-to-word dictionary on his table, I forced what I hoped was an encouraging smile. "You can try to use your dictionary... just do your best."
About twenty minutes later, one of my Korean beginners raised her hand. My heart sunk when I saw the closed test booklet sitting in her lap. The regular testing time wasn't even over yet, let alone the extended time that my ELLs can (and should) take. "Are you finished? Remember you can take a very long time..." I halfheartedly pointed at her word-to-word dictionary.
Her wide, serious eyes were filled with defeat as she shook her head. "I don't understand."
It was one thing to have my heart break to see my students exhausting themselves for graduation testing, working frantically for entire days all week. It's an entirely different kind of devastation to see them just give up because they can't even access the test questions, let alone complete the tasks that are supposed to show what they know and can do.
Contrary to the beliefs of the PARCC creators, allowing beginner and low intermediate students to have interpreters and translation for a language arts assessment would not invalidate the test constructs. In fact, my graduate classes in foreign language education and TESOL all taught me that reading should be assessed in ways that determine true comprehension of the passage by taking language dependency out of the assessment items: using pictures, nonverbal tasks, and questions in students' first language. And how could anyone possibly show how well they can write if they can't decipher what the prompt is asking them to write about?
The old tests were arduous enough, but at least they attempted to give my students a chance: interpreters, audio CD translations, the use of electronic dictionaries and more robust paper dictionaries. Sadly, the absurd restrictions of PARCC ELA tests do not preserve their validity; they invalidate my students. With the old tests, my students were resolute warriors. This year's freshmen were defeated as soon as they began.