NYC Teachers Boycott Test Students Are Bound to Fail

English language learners are given the same test as native speakers solely to evaluate teachers
May 1, 2014 9:07 pm Last Updated: May 1, 2014 9:13 pm

NEW YORK—Dozens of teachers at International High School in Prospect Heights boycotted Thursday’s English test forced on immigrant students solely to evaluate teachers.

The school serves 406 children, all of whom have spent less than four years in the country. Only about 5 percent of the students speak English well enough not to be classified as English language learners.

Yet the students were supposed to tackle a test designed for children already proficient in English. The test is administered twice, with a fall test setting the achievement bar, and the spring test measuring progress over the school year.

This is the first year teachers will be evaluated partly on how their students fare on the standardized tests. During last year’s fall state exams only 3 percent of English language learners passed the English test, and 11 percent passed the math test.

“The level of English … was so far above the language levels of our recently arrived immigrant student population, that it provided little to no information about their language or their academic proficiencies,” said the school’s literacy coach Joanna Yip. “The vast majority of our students received zero points.”

Ironically, next Wednesday, 95 percent of the students will undergo the state-mandated English as a Second Language (ESL) Achievement Test designed specifically for English language learners.

The problem is the state doesn’t allow this ESL test to be used for teacher evaluations. Schools are provided with a list of approved tests to choose from, none of which are suitable for children with limited English skills, a population of approximately 154,000 students, or 14 percent.

A number of teachers said the fall pretest was a traumatic experience for the students and a blow to their confidence in the country’s education system. “Having this experience for them early in high school where everybody failed does internalize,” said Melissa De Leon, an English and history teacher.

As a consequence, over 50 percent of the students’ parents opted out of the test. The rest will be given the test despite the boycott.

In an email, Harry Hartfield, spokesman for the city’s Education Department, said “[W]e have been assured that the assessments will be offered as planned.”

The boycotting teachers are aware a disciplinary action may await them. “Despite the potentially negative consequences, our professional judgment dictates that we cannot participate in this assessment,” said Steve Watson, math teacher and union chapter leader of the school.

“We are not willing to sacrifice the trust of our students, their feelings of self-worth, and our professional duty to do what is best for them.”