Sunday, March 7, 2004

Statewide test adds challenge

Districts scramble to find translators

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sixth-grader Rosa Velazquez, 11, listens to Curtis Spencer teach at Heritage Hill Elementary School. These students speak other languages and he is helping them prepare for the math portion of the Ohio proficiency test.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/STEVEN M. HERPPICH
Ohio has students whose proficiency is not in English, but in one of at least 78 other languages. As good as that may be for diversity, the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state law require students who are Limited-English Proficient (LEP) to take the Ohio Proficiency Test, whether they've been in this country a day or a year.

And that's causing a scramble because for the first time, the Ohio Department of Education decided to allow translators to help new immigrant students during certain tests. But that has left the state and some local districts scrambling to find translators for this week's exams - a task as difficult as learning the English language. At least one local district, Lakota, secured its final translator Friday.

In December, the Ohio Department of Education promised districts help in finding translators for students in this country for less than three years. Translators could help students in their native languages on parts of the reading and math tests. In February, however, the state told districts it could not meet all requests.

"It was a lot more difficult to find translators than they anticipated," said Craig Baker, director of intervention at Lakota Local School District. "Some of these languages are harder to find than others."

The state had 2,200 requests statewide for translators for students in 78 languages. The state, which pays translators $75 per test per student, was able to identify translators for only 28 of those languages.

With the large number of requests for Spanish, Japanese, Arabic and Somali translators, the need also exceeded the number of translators identified.

Ohio's Limited-English Proficiency students represent more than 110 different native/home languages. The top 10 language groups, in descending order:
Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of German used by the Amish)
Source: Ohio Department of Education
Limited English Proficient (LEP) students may receive certain accommodations while taking the Ohio Proficiency Test.

All LEP students are allowed extended time, and they may use dictionaries.

A smaller group of "eligible" students, who meet certain criteria, may have additional accommodations for specific grades and subjects.

Students are eligible if they have not been enrolled in U.S. schools more than three years and do not score at the advanced or proficient level in reading and writing.

Elementary students taking the Grade 3 Reading Achievement Test, Grade 4 reading and math tests, and Grade 6 reading and math tests may have one of the following accommodations:
•  An English audio recording or oral reading of the tests.
•  An oral translation of the tests in the student's native language.
•  A written bilingual form of the test in Spanish, the largest second language group in Ohio.

Sophomores taking the Ohio Graduation Test may also have accommodations in reading and math. They may have either an English audio recording or oral reading, or an oral translation in their native language.

For all four grades, an oral translator may translate allowable parts of these tests into the student's native language.

The oral translator will provide the translation and transcription of student answers if the student answers in his native language, and use a prescribed script of the regular test.

Students may respond orally or in written form. The translator must transcribe student answers into English.

Source: Ohio Department of Education

"The number of translators and the number of languages both became a problem," said Don Peasley, assistant director in the Ohio Department of Education's Office of Assessment. "It was the first time we tried to do this on this scale, and we were not able to make the requests that we would have liked."

That left districts, such as Princeton City Schools, scrambling to find translators in Spanish, Vietnamese, Georgian, French, Gujarati, Serbo-Croatian and Hindi. With help from General Electric, which has a cadre of bilingual employees, it has filled all of its spots.

Lakota had to locate translators in Spanish, Russian, Arabic, German, Japanese, Farsi, Sinhales, Tagalog, French, Gujarati, Bengali, Mandarin Chinese and Punjabi.

Some local districts had trouble locating Vietnamese translators. Others, like West Clermont Local School District, had to jump through hoops to find a translator for a single student.

West Clermont couldn't find a translator for a second-semester senior from Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic that shares a border with Afghanistan. It was crucial, because students must pass the proficiency test to graduate.

Nina Johnson, an English as a Second Language teacher in the district, received a Feb. 23 e-mail from the state, saying it couldn't find an Uzbek translator. Johnson mentioned it to Kim Orlemann, an Amelia High School guidance counselor.

Orlemann recalled someone from Uzbekistan had visited her church and asked her minister about it. The minister sorted through 1,000 visitor cards and found the man's name, phone number and e-mail address.

Johnson called the Ohio Department of Education with the information. The department contacted the man, who was a Northern Kentucky University student.

A test administrator must also be present when a translator is used. Because the NKU student has no transportation, the test administrator from Sharonville will give the student a ride to Amelia High School for the tests.

About 23,000 LEP students were enrolled in Ohio schools during the 2002-'03 school year. That represents an increase of 35 percent over the number reported three years ago.

Many of the state's LEP students are children of recent immigrants who came to the United States for better economic opportunities or to seek refuge from persecution.

A 2002 Ohio Department of Education survey showed that 294of Ohio's 612school districts reported serving 12,120 immigrant students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three years.

Other LEP students come from families who have been in the United States for many years, but speak their native languages at home.

Under the old state rules, Ohio students with limited English could attend U.S. schools for three years before taking proficiency tests. Now, even new arrivals are tested, but scores are not required to be included in a school's results if students are enrolled less than a full academic year, said Mitchell Chester, assistant superintendent for policy development with the Ohio Department of Education.

Even with some exemptions and special accommodations, such as translators and dictionaries, many educators question the fairness of testing new immigrants.

Curtis Spencer, an English as a Second Language teacher at Princeton's Heritage Hill Elementary, said a Georgian student who had been in the district a month, had to take the Third Grade Reading Achievement Test in October. He ended up scoring "Did Not Attempt."

"All he did was look at the test and cry for two hours. He was so frustrated. He did not understand what they wanted him to do on the test. And he is a bright boy."

The proficiency test is hard for some American students who grew up here, Spencer said, let alone students from other countries.

"How are they going to do on these tests if they don't speak English? Are those scores going to really reflect what we've done all year with those students? The answer is 'No.' The proficiency test isn't going to reflect the growth they've made in English."


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