Students who don't speak English to take ISAT

March 3, 2008 5:13:49 PM PST
Students still learning English now have to take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, a change some parents fear will hurt their education. By state law the vast majority of CPS English language learners must receive instruction in their native language combined with English for their first few school years. However, at the urging of the U.S. Department of Education to develop a valid assessment of how well English Learning Language (ELL) students are meeting standards, the students will be required to take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, which is entirely in English.

After a month-long fight with state education officials, Chicago Public Schools will be forced to administer the ISAT to approximately 22,000 students who are still learning to speak and read English starting Tuesday. There are a total of 55,000 ELL students across Illinois.

"This is a test I think can be devastating psychologically to children, who will sit for a week and they will look at questions that they have a hard time comprehending. And let me be very clear, we have some absolutely brilliant bilingual children," said Arne Duncan, CPS chief executive officer.

"My kids are worried about this exam- and, I think not just my kid. For all the kids of the schools of Chicago. They're not ready for this and I think it's unfair," said Ramiro Arranda, concerned parent.

"Many of kids speak other language and this is a big problem for them," said Rosa Diaz, concerned parent.

CPS and several other school districts tried unsuccessfully to convince state officials to allow for a delay in the testing of ELL students in order to allow for translations of portions of the test into students' native languages. CPS said the tests will not be used to decide if a student should be promoted to the next grade.

"We do not consider this to be a valid test for our English Language Learners. We want parents and teachers to reassure our ELL students that the results of the test will not be used when deciding if they will be promoted to the next grade," said Barbara Eason-Watkins, CPS chief education officer.

"It's not fair for the kids who actually came a month ago. They don't even know how to say 'hi,' or how to spell it," said Sue Lopez, parent.

"What if I come here and they say that I need to do a Chinese test and then I don't even know the language? So, I think it's pretty unfair," said Jorge Lopez, CPS student.

The federal government ruled that this test had to be given in order to avoid losing federal funding and face other sanctions.