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English Language Education Program

It's housed only in Quincy High.

320 English Language Learners from 17 countries enrolled in the program in 2007-08.

The program has four levels: Beginning, Low, Imtermediate, and Advanced.

The goal of the program is to transition ELL into a regular program of studies as quickly as possible.

Source: Brochure produced by the ELE Department, Quincy High.

No balance in No Child Left Behind

Students whose English is not their first language find the No Child Left Behind mandate a real challenge.

By SOMSAVATH PHANTHADY

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Photo: Somsavath Phanthady

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUINCY – Phwe Tham, 16, a 10th grader in Quincy High School, Quincy, MA, is lucky that he speaks English and does well in school. Tham is originally from Burma. He learned English in school and from American friends. He also learned it by watching a lot of cartoons when he moved from Burma to the United States when he was 6 years old. He is in advanced classes in Quincy High and takes many electives. “I found it [learning English] pretty easy,” he said, “because, I think, I was young, so it was easier for me to learn.”  

However, many high school students whose English is not their first language and who are new to the country find it hard to meet the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate. Not only do they struggle to keep up with the rest of the class, but they may also take extra classes to succeed and must pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) to earn a high school diploma.

Passing the MCAS is difficult for these students because the exam is written for students whose English is their first language, said Beth Hallet, director of the Department of English Language Education at Quincy High. “A lot of the subjects that are put on the English Language Arts part of the exam are related to the subjects that are background knowledge to American students, not international students,” Hallet said. Building this knowledge takes years and without it, it is difficult to pass the exam, she said.

Not only is the lack of the background knowledge a challenge, but writing is difficult for these students, too. Hallet said students have to pay attention to a lot of grammatical structure, and that takes several years to learn. “Research shows that it takes seven years for a student to acquire academic language,” Hallet said.“You can’t do seven years in high school. You have a four-year program; that’s all you have,” she said.

“The problem is that you have a student coming into your school system that has been only a year or over a year in this country and they are taking an English test and are judged the same way as students that have been here since the pre-kindergarten,” said Richard DeCristofaro, superintendent of Quincy Public Schools. “Who would set up a system like that? And who would say it is right?” he asked.

Hallet said even though the test is hard, it is needed because it shows the progress of students. “However, for ELL [English Language Learners] it is really difficult and . . . I don’t want to say it’s unfair, but I feel that it’s a very harsh requirement for them,” she added, “So many of them working very hard to be comfortable in this country to learn a new language they don’t use for 50 percent or more in a day.”

MCAS aside, Superintendent DeCristofaro said once in school, these students are thrust into the U.S. education system like everybody else. Not only do they have to adjust to schools that may be different from their own, but they have to adjust to the culture, too. “So it’s the balance that NCLB doesn’t provide,” Superintendent DeCristofaro said.

Educators said NCLB, signed into law more than six years ago, puts a heavy burden on students from certain subgroups; students whose English is not their first language is one of them. The law requires all students to make a uniform yearly progress in 2014, which many educators said, “It is an impossible goal to meet.” Teachers and school administrators argued that it fails to take into the consideration of different learning abilities that each student brings into the classroom.

“What kills me about No Child Left Behind and MCAS it is 100 percent collated with social and economic status across the country. It’s reflective somewhat on what children come to school prepared with from their homes,” said Linda Stice, a former member of the Quincy Public Schools Committee for 16 years.

However, the NCLB mandates are here to stay and many students do succeed, such as Tham. But some don’t. “Students fail because they don’t take their studies seriously,” Tham said.

Hallet agreed that “some students [English Language Learners] may come to school but they may not be progressing. They may find it difficult, and for that reason they’ve decided that there are others things that they can do. Some take up jobs and don’t stay with us. “But it’s a very small number that happens,” she said.

However, even that small number matters. They can have a negative impact on how a school meets the NCLB mandate, as measured by its Annual Yearly Progress.