Letter to Arne Duncan: ‘Race to the Top’ Is Unfair to Teachers of ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 26, 2009 1 min read
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James Crawford, a longtime writer about English-language learners and president of the Institute for Language and Education Policy, has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan contending that proposed priorities for Race to the Top are a bad idea for teachers of English-language learners.

Crawford has always been a critic of the emphasis on standardized testing in the No Child Left Behind Act, and he tells Duncan that his organization “is especially concerned by your insistence that standardized test scores be used as part of teacher-compensation systems.” It’s particularly a bad idea, he argues, that teachers of English-language learners be evaluated based on their students’ test scores.

“The grant criteria would also place an undue reliance on standardized tests that offer, at best, a blurry snapshot of student progress,” Crawford writes. “For English-language learners (ELLs) in particular, such tests are rarely valid or reliable.”

In addition, Crawford says, “If teachers are to be penalized for an ‘achievement gap’ over which they have no control, how many will want to teach ELLs?”

Crawford’s position that teachers of ELLs would be harmed if they were to be judged by their students’ test scores on states’ academic content tests was also expressed this week by Duane Campbell of Choosing Democracy blog, which I blogged about.

Two teachers of ELLs posted comments to that blog item. One said she was OK in being evaluated by how her students score on tests, as long as her ELLs could be tested in the language of their strength, which might be their native language.

Another said her school system’s program for ELLs isn’t set up in a way that allows her to teach them effectively. She writes: “I am not comfortable with my students’ test scores being tied to my ‘effectiveness’ and/or pay scale. If I was allowed to teach in the manner in which I was trained to do, and based upon research-proven best practices, I would feel differently.”

The National Education Association has also written to Duncan in opposition to the measure. See my colleague Stephen Sawchuk’s blog entry and story about the union’s position.

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