Amid all of the changes, one consistent element in my ESL world was that of language testing. Students took, and still do take, a language assessment test if indicated at registration. This is in compliance with state and federal laws. All families who register in a new school are given a Home Language Survey to complete. This survey has questions to determine if a student has a language other than English in his or her life. What is the first language of the student? What language is used by adults in the home? What language does the student use at home and with peers? Did the student attend school in another country? If answers indicate another dominant language, then the student takes a language assessment test. I have had to smile that over the years there have been more than a few native English speakers who read the form, answer the question about attending school in another country incorrectly, write the name of a neighboring county, and then write in big letters, “This is the United States. We speak English here!” I understand that there is only one letter difference between “county” and “country”, but it is ironic that some who are so adamant about using English here still pay little attention to their own native language.
There have been a few different tests over the years, but they all assess English language levels in speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Even though the element of testing has not changed, the attention given to the test and addressing the needs of students has. In the early years of testing, I was not just a cog in the ESL wheel but the only wheel in the machine in my high school. It was my duty to organize students for large group assessments in reading and writing. The testing situations changed over time. In the early years, I started with 150+ students taking the test in the school auditorium using wooden lap boards for a writing surface. This morphed into smaller numbers of students to fit whatever classroom was available during different class periods of the day. This then changed to rotating small groups through my classroom when I had one. And that was just testing for reading and writing!
Testing was a completely different beast for listening and speaking. I was still solely responsible for administering these tests, but the additional challenge was that these tests had to be administered one on one. To manage, my students continued to come to my classes as usual, but they watched a movie as I pulled them one at a time to sit in the doorway of my room. I pulled one desk and two chairs, cracked my door open about an inch, and administered the test while keeping an eye on the other students in my classroom at the same time. This was the easy part. I then had to use student schedules and walk around the building finding kids, bringing them to my doorway, testing them, walking the student back to class, going to the next class and starting again. Overall, this took almost three weeks. As a result of this inefficient process, three weeks of instruction and learning were lost, twice a year. At the beginning of the year all students new to our building were tested. In the middle of the year all students classified as non-English and limited English proficient were tested. If students moved to our building during the year and qualified according to the Home Language Survey, they were tested, too. Of course, after the testing came the scoring, recording, and reporting.
With all this testing, a person might think that the data would have been used in some productive manner. I honestly never saw anything immediately come from that testing, until at least 10 years later. Sometime after 2002, with the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act, “someone” took notice. Someone noticed that large numbers of students from non-English speaking backgrounds were part of the “left behind” group.
At that point, a school counselor was designated to be the testing organizer for our building. In fact, each building received a designated testing organizer. Other people were trained to help with testing. A sub was called in to cover my classes. Students who were teacher assistants were “runners”, taking passes to kids to come at specified times to quiet rooms to do the speaking and listening tests. Kids were organized by grade levels for classroom sized groups for the reading and writing tests.
A few years later the testing became even more specialized. A District coordinator, Building coordinator and Test administrators were added. Now, the tests are sent to the state level to be scored. It became the policy in my school district to include the scoring in the evaluation system of district performance. Some principals chose to make the ELL overall scores and growth, as shown by the annual testing, part of the individual teachers’ performance evaluation score. This is especially important for schools with high student populations classified as ELL. It has taken nearly 30 years for our district and teachers to pay attention to the connection between instruction and learning for all students. Of course, not all teachers get to that point, but gaining a small number is better than none.