Trying to win an unfair game

Students take a deeper look at the ESL Access test



Every February, English as a  Second Language (ESL) students take a test that they know, however hard they try, they may not be able to score high enough to pass.

Adopted by 37 states and conducted every February, WIDA ESL Access test was once a good opportunity to test out of the ESL program, but now it’s viewed as a critical problem in schools.

The ESL program provides English-language support in schools for all students who speak a language other than English in their home. Whether the student is US-born or moved here a couple of days or weeks ago, if they speak any other language they are enrolled in the program.

“When [students] enroll in school regardless of when that is, any kid that checks off that they speak any second language at home they have to take a placement test,” said assistant principal Ashley Stephens.  “if they don’t pass that placement test they are put in the ESL program.”

The Access Test is meant for ESL students in kindergarten through twelfth grade that are identified as English Language Learners (ELL’s) and is administered annually to monitor English proficiency and potentially help them exit the program.

“Exiting the program could possibly demonstrate that they are bilingual,” said Alaina Burr, former Riverside ESL program chair. “On top of their first language, it shows they can handle another language, which makes them stronger for jobs and college acceptance.”

“It makes you feel dumb because I’ve known english for most of my life. Why are [they] testing me on it?”

\The Access Test consists of four different components; reading, writing, listening and speaking. There are three different versions of the test: Tier A, for students new o the program, Tier B, and Tier C, for more proficient students.

“It’s hard to compare the level of difficulty,” said ESL teacher Elizabeth Moreno, “but just to give you a bit of insight the writing portion they have one hour to write 3 complete essays. Some kids just never exit because they never score high enough to be deemed proficient.”

Riverside students have been taking the test since 2008, yet many teachers still know little to nothing about it. When the sample test was given to a group of 4 teachers from all different subjects, the group expressed a need for change in the format of the test because it was very difficult for even natural born English speakers.

“Even as an adult I am confused,” said English teacher Victoria Watson. “I don’t see much difference between the [sample] test for grades 9-12 and grades 2-3.”

Some students agree that the test is too difficult and doesn’t do a good job gauging English language proficiency, but students are split on it.

“I’ve been in the ESL program since like second grade,” said junior Yulissa Victorio. “I got out of it in sixth grade, then back in in freshman year. It makes you feel dumb because I’ve known English for most of my life. Why are [they] testing me on it?”

But other students feel like the test was fairly easy, but understand what conflicts might be involved.

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