Immigrants and SOL scores

Jeremy Aldrich -- November 2nd, 2006

Most people, probably even most teachers, don’t understand the complicated system of school accountability in our country. At first, we just had a fairly complicated state accreditation system based on SOL scores. Local schools have, for the most part, had no problem with maintaining state accreditation since the system is flexible and many students’ scores are not included in the final results.

Then a few years ago we added the even more complicated accountability system of the No Child Left Behind Act, which says schools must make “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, until all children (100% of them) pass standardized tests in English, math, and science by the year 2014. In the meantime, schools are given moving targets for what percent of students must pass the tests (for example, last year 69% of students had to pass the English tests, this year 73% must pass, next year 77% must pass, etc.). You can see the moving targets here. In addition, test results are broken down by subgroups including: white students, black students, Hispanic students, students with disabilities, students identified as economically disadvantaged, and Limited English Profiency (LEP) students. Each subgroup must also meet the target set for the year. So, for example, last year 69% of LEP students needed to pass the English test in each school. By the year 2014 100% of LEP students will need to pass, which makes you wonder why they would still be called LEP.

Anyhow, the rub of it is that if your school has fewer than a certain number of students in each subgroup, you don’t report their scores and thus the subgroup rankings don’t count against you. Currently the cutoff number for Virginia schools is 10 students. What this means in practice is that schools with small immigrant populations (and thus small LEP numbers) don’t have their low scores counted against the school. On the other hand, schools with large immigrant populations have their low scores count against the school, and hey! Those kids are often also in other subgroups like Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, and learning disabled. So one student’s low score counts against the school in four separate categories!

The main injustice of this system is for schools like Thomas Harrison Middle School who actually surpass the state averages for LEP students on each of the 8th grade tests. (the tests for grade 6 and 7 were new last year so the baseline isn’t stable yet). Because THMS has a large number of immigrant students, their above-average results actually count against them, unlike schools whose LEP students fail miserably, but the school has too few of them to count. In other words, the law punishes schools who have a lot of immigrant students, even if the progress of those students is exceptional compared to the state averages. This is bad news for divisions like Harrisonburg City Public Schools, which has jumped from having 6% of their students classified as LEP 10 years ago, to 38% this year.

To add insult to injury, the state’s Board of Education has now mandated that all LEP students must either take the regular reading test for their grade level (check out some sample tests here) or that teachers keep a portfolio to prove their newest (and lowest) LEP students have accomplished their grade-level standards. Problem is, the state isn’t paying any of the extra cost to train teachers, collect and maintain the portfolios, or assess them at year’s end. Again, school divisions with large numbers of immigrant students face a sad choice: pay tons of extra money for these required assessments, or have their low level LEP kids take the regular grade-level English test and fail for sure.

This system, which is touted as a way to raise standards for all children including immigrant children, actually works against the students and their schools.

By the way, you can search for the SOL results of any school in Virginia here.

– Gxeremio

7 Responses to “Immigrants and SOL scores”

  1. finnegan says:

    Geez… That’s ridiculous. So, forgive the ignorance, but what’s the difference between ESL and LEP?

    Isn’t the ESL enrollment projected to be 50 percent in H’burg by 2010?

    So, this is the problem. What are the alternative solutions? Keep the percentages capped?

  2. Gxeremio says:

    ESL and LEP are two names for the same group. ESL stands for English as a Second Language, but some people don’t like that because for many kids it’s their third, fourth, or fifth language and not their second. LEP, or Limited English Proficient, is also not loved because an “LEP” kid could in fact be fluent in English. ELL, or English Language Learner, is also in use, but this describes every speaker of the language, even native speakers. So it’s just a terminology thing.

    Yes, if you look at the enrollment statistics, 43% of 1st graders and 51% of kindergarten kids in Hburg are LEP (or ELL or ESL or whatever). Eventually those kids will be in high school, and the classes behind them look to be at least 50% LEP as well.

    Solutions? Hmm…setting realistic goals would be a start (I’ve thought about quitting my job and coming back in 2014 when 100% of students will be perfect), but there’s another good option: making the assessments show progress for the individual student (i.e. showing where they started the year in knowledge and where they ended the year) instead of creating artificial benchmarks for what “every 8th grader should know,” regardless of when they came to the US or what their obstacles (i.e. not speaking English, being learning disabled, etc.) are. The reason this won’t happen is that setting up such a system would be very expensive; much more expensive than making up and printing out test booklets that can be graded by machine.

    In all fairness, I should say that the No Child Left Behind law, for all its major flaws, has had the positive effect of focusing attention on some groups that have often slipped through the cracks. This is a good thing. But there has to be a balance between having school accountability and unfairly punishing the very schools who serve the neediest students.

  3. Gxeremio says:

    WHSV has a story up today which says that ESL (LEP) students cost an average of $3,000 more than other students to the school division each year, and reiterates that the city pays most of those costs.

  4. Gxeremio says:

    Oh, and here’s another link to a DNR article about the new portfolio option for schools. A knowledgeable source points out that the standards themselves, whether tested by portfolio or otherwise, “are totally not appropriate for Level 1 and 2 students [who speak very little English] because they assume the students need to be on grade level. Duh!”

  5. finnegan says:

    I’m assuming these education mandates and initiatives are coming from congress in DC.

    Is it that politicians aren’t paying attention to the right education specialists, or that they just want to appear to be concerned with public education issues during their campaigns?

  6. David says:

    Vote YES on Marriage, No Child Left Behind, TOUGH on TERRORISM, PRO-LIFE (If I was a politician I woudl use the Pro-Life slogan as the title for a bill outllawing the death penalty so as to steal it from conservative marketers). All are really catchy slogans that simplify a “voting record” for a 30 second TV spot. If anyone can argue rationally that any of the above actually addresses the issue that it claims to, I’d be suprised. Great marketing tricks because you then have your opponent left with VOTE NO ON MARRIAGE, CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND, WEAK ON TERRORISM, ANTI-LIFE, WEAK ON CRIME. Tricky bastards.

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