With NCLB, One Size Fits All--Or Does It Really?

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 28, 2008 1 min read
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Update: A comment from Charles Stansfield caused me to check out the Ohio Department of Education’s Web site and find that Ohio provides translation in Somali for a number of state tests, though students must read portions of the state’s reading test in English. So the premise of my blog item is wrong. Ohio education officials, I apologize to you for making a totally wrong assumption.

Original Blog Post: A journalist for the Cleveland Scene has written a thoughtful piece, published April 16, about English-language learners and the No Child Left Behind Act. The article, “How do you pass No Child Left Behind ...when you don’t speak English?” is astute in noting how Ohio’s accountability system—and thus the federal accountability system as well—doesn’t give credit for some accomplishments of ELLs.

Bradley Campbell, the journalist, writes about how a 14-year-old boy, Abdikadir, attending Cleveland’s Gallagher School, serves as his teachers’ translator for other immigrants from Africa when one of the school’s hired translators, Aweys, isn’t present in the classroom. The boy is about to move from a program designed for new arrivals to a regular English-as-a-second-language program. Here’s the observation that jumped out at me:

Abdikadir functions as the school's interpreter when Aweys is away. He's the only kid who can speak Swahili, Maay-Maay, and Somali, and translate them to English. It's a ridiculous feat for a 14-year-old, but he'll get no acknowledgment from the state. The Ohio Achievement Test, on which the school's fate rests, does not give points to pint-size boys who've mastered multiple languages. The only language that matters is English.

Of course, the No Child Left Behind Act does permit states to develop tests in students’ native languages for accountability purposes. But I would imagine the chances are slim that Ohio will create such tests in Swahili, Maay-Maay, or Somali.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.