Teachers of New Immigrants Refuse to Give Students an English Test

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Several teachers at the International High School at Prospect Heights said they will refuse to give a city-mandated English assessment to their students Thursday because they believe it is demoralizing for their students who are immigrants still learning English.

The assessments are given in the fall and spring in order to determine student growth as part of the state's mandated teacher evaluation system, which also includes classroom observations and student scores on state tests. They are not used for student promotion decisions, or as diagnostic tools.

English teacher Anita Feingold-Shaw said the assessment "doesn't serve any purpose for our students who are English Language Learners or for us as teachers."

Feingold-Shaw said her students — who come from dozens of countries including Tibet, China and Yemen — were traumatized and discouraged when they took the first assessment last fall.

"When we graded them, the vast majority didn't even receive points," she said. 

It wasn't clear if the test would still be administered because the teachers claimed the school staff supported them and that half the affected parents opted out of the assessment, which is given to ninth and tenth graders. The school's principal did not reply to a request for comment.

Department of Education officials said they would take disciplinary action if warranted.

"We deeply value the feedback we receive from these assessments whose purpose is to help teachers determine how to best teach their students as well as to help determine teacher ratings. At the International High School at Prospect Heights, these assessments have no stakes for students, and as D.O.E. policy mandates, these students should receive all the accommodations they require," said D.O.E. spokeswoman Devora Kaye.

English Language Learners are allowed to use bilingual dictionaries or glossaries on assessments, and can also get more time to take them, she said. The Prospect Heights teachers said they prefer to use writing samples and other examples of work to determine student progress.