Monday, April 03, 2006

The Trials of Gifted Bilingual Students

Two posts ago I wrote about an Arizona Republic columnist who pitted gifted kids against English language learners in a way that suggested kids couldn't possibly be both. Now I've learned, according to a South Bend Tribune article, that kids who are both face a very interesting, very modern problem. Namely, states have an incentive to claim that anyone who does well in school and is from a family that hasn't been in this country long, is part of their bilingual program. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires states to test their English language learners on English proficiency, and rates states based on passing rates. So even if you've been speaking English fluently for years and are completely mainstreamed, the state will pull you out of class to take the exam so it can include your high score in its average. That's what happened to Maymay Lam and Thuy Nguyen of Riley High School in South Bend. You can read their story here.

Basically, these girls who speak English as well as any of us were pulled out of their advanced classes for hours and forced to take a test that featured oral questions like "Example: Martha went to the store to buy groceries. Question: What did Martha do?" Then the teacher would hold up a picture of a chair and ask "what is this?" and "how do you use it?" Lam refused to take the rest of the test, saying it was insulting. Now the state is saying she doesn't have any choice; they are "forced" to do this through NCLB, even though Lam was born in the United States. Because she speaks Chinese at home, Indiana is trying to rope her in.

I hope Lam prevails in her fight. When I was a high school student in Indiana, I managed to get out of taking a basic 10th grade test that would have required me to miss days of my calculus class simply to be a guinea pig for the new test the state was thinking of using. My family said I would stay home; eventually, my school agreed I didn't have to take it. These families are already a step ahead of the game by calling up the local paper. With any luck, other families will be inspired to fight this time-waster as well.

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