Monday, March 2, 2015


Day 2 of 31 days of writing!
"Teacher!" one of my new students from Saudi Arabia called me over on the first day of PARCC ELA testing last week. "What does this mean?"

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.


  1. I can't begin to imagine how hard this is as a teacher, to have to sit and watch your students struggle and not be able to help them. Hugs to you and your kids

  2. Having met your wonderful hard-working students, I am saddened beyond belief by your vivid description of their defeat. Your title aptly defines now how they view assessment as an ELL student. I also know how much it must of hurt you to tell them that you couldn't help them. Their beloved teacher that they trust so much. And that is probably the saddest part of the story.

  3. I feel your pain as I was giving instructions for my ELLs who are taking the ACT tomorrow. I get to proctor the PLAN test. I really wonder what my ELLs who speak no English are going to write? Are their guessing even making the tests valid? Such craziness! All this in the middle of our ELL testing season. We need a change!

  4. So sorry to hear this, Jennifer. I wish those 'powers that be' would wake up to realize how crazy this is. Best to you in working this out.

  5. Those restrictions are so absurd. It's like we're back in the days of the early 1900's when my grandfather came to America and had to sink or swim. It's terrible. We've come farther than this as a society. I wish the powers that be would come to their senses and support ELL students in real ways if they're going to insist on this test!

    1. I know, Stacey. It's absolutely inequitable and exclusionary. Thanks for your support!

  6. Your post breaks my heart for your students and you to watch them struggle so much. I'd like those people who mandate these tests to try and take the test in a foreign language. Maybe then they will get a feeling for your students.

  7. Just sending more encouragement and love your way!!


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