Sunday, February 22, 2009

Logan Square ELL parents address ISAT worries

My third beat report story.


A mother takes notes on reading comprehension for English Language Learners in preparation for the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). (Photo credit: Anthonia A./MEDILL)

Parents at seven Logan Square schools gathered Friday morning to voice concern with the upcoming Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) testing of English Language Learners, saying it places unrealistic expectations on students still learning how to speak, read and write in English.

Over 80 parents, teachers, volunteers and administrators came to the meeting at James Monroe Elementary School to learn more about the test, which is now in its second year for ELL students.

Parents and teachers said students were visibly nervous with the test just a week away.

“They think that [taking the ISAT] is [punishment for] something they did bad so they have to retake it,” said Maria Marquez, a teacher at McAuliffe Elementary. “They’re nervous about not passing [and] going up to the fourth grade.”

Silvia Gonz├ílez, resource and parent-mentor coordinator at McAuliffe Elementary School, added: “I see how they struggle, I see their frustration. My heart [breaks] for some of these kids.”

Students in the third to eighth grade will be taking the ISAT between March 2 and March 13. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the ISAT “measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards,” testing students in reading, mathematics, science and writing. The scores are used to determine a school’s performance and if a student will be promoted to the next grade level. High schools look at a 7th grader’s ISAT scores to determine the student’s chances at enrollment.

Until March of last year, ELL students took the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE) test and the ACCESS for ELLs to judge their comprehension of the English language in social and educational contexts. ISBE stopped administering IMAGE after the U.S. Department of Education decided in November that the test did not meet No Child Left Behind standards. It was not immediately clear why the ISAT did not meet the standards.

ELL students taking the ISAT are eligible for accommodations such as having directions read to them in their native language and having more time to answer questions.

The change came as a total surprise to parents in the community, said Leticia Barrera, an education organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA).

“We were receiving phone calls from parents asking us if we [knew what was happening],” Barrera said. She said the ISBE and CPS avoided answering parents’ questions; information of accommodations for ELL students trickled in, but not with the urgency or accuracy LSNA said parents needed.

“We have students here,” Barrera said. “We are in the community and they are over there … implementing all these things without our input.”

Last year LSNA brought the community together to teach parents about the ISAT as ELL students took the test for the first time. This year the meeting was comprised of two seminars led by Reading First reading teachers Maureen Hajduke and Carrie Busse, with volunteers translating for Spanish-speaking parents.

Hajduke and a volunteer translator went over the basics of the ISAT in Monroe’s auditorium, teaching parents how to navigate the Illinois State Board of Education’s Web site, what students will be tested on based on grade level, what the test will look like and how to help students prepare for the two-week long exam.

The importance of parent preparedness was stressed.

“Don’t wait for anyone to tell you [what to do],” Hajduke said. “Prepare them yourself.

During the meeting’s second seminar Busse taught parents how to stop students from “regurgitating” information without processing it. Parents took notes Friday and simulated how they would work with their children in groups, using charts, markers and Post-it notes.

“No matter if they’re an ELL learner or a monolingual student, if they’re not exposed to it, they cannot connect to the text,” Busse said.

Organizers said they felt parents left with a better understanding of the ISAT and their children’s concerns.

“At times parents don’t know the stress that the children are going through,” said Gonz├ílez, McAuliffe Elementary School’s resource and parent-mentor coordinator. “They think ‘Oh, it’s just a test.’”

“They were given an idea of how to work with the children and how to help them prepare for this test,” Gonzalez said. “Some of these parents left with a lot of questions being answered.”

Monica Espinoza, a parent-teacher mentor at McAuliffe Elementary, said her son is excited to take the test after being transitioned from ELL to monolingual classes this year.

“He’s like, ‘Mommy, I’m very excited because I know I’m going to do well,’” Espinoza said. “And I’m like, ‘I know you’re going to do well.’ But in the back of my mind I have that concern. [I’m just] trying to help him as much as I can.”

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