PARCC Unfair to ELL Students

Alennys Nieves, Contributor

High school students across America are now finishing the end-of-year Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Many of these students were unhappy about having to take this test: they felt stressed by it; they were not sure if it counted for anything; they felt they needed to keep up on their classes; and they were already busy preparing for other tests like the SAT, ACT, and AP tests. As an English Language Learner (ELL), I have other reasons to add to this list of problems.

ELL students are having a difficult time learning a new language and a new culture. In the middle of that difficulty, these tests seem unfair to students whose scores will be lower, not because they are not smart, but because they could not read and understand all the questions. It was difficult for me to understand many words on the PARCC. I was provided with a translating dictionary, but that did not help very much. Asking an ELL student to read three articles and then answer questions comparing them and then write an essay about them is too difficult for students just learning the language. Also, there were difficult words even in the Math section; I found myself looking for some clues to help me understand the word problems. This is why ELL students will make more errors than students who were born in this country—not because they are not as smart.

ELL teacher, Mariana DaSilva said that ELL students do get some accommodations: “ELLs are given extended time (time and a half) and the use of a word-to-word dictionary (English/Native Language); if needed, the directions may also be read out loud in the student’s native language. There are no exemptions for ELLs taking the PARCC, even the beginners must take the ELA section. They can, however, take a translated version of the Mathematics Assessment in Spanish or other translated languages, but not every language is available.”

Despite these accommodations, Ms. DaSilva is unhappy with the way PARCC evaluates new English language learners: “In my opinion, PARCC creates an unnecessary level of anxiety for English Language Learners. Not only do they have the arduous task of keeping up with their daily classes and assignments, they also have to worry about being assessed in a language they have not yet mastered. PARCC assesses the most complicated tasks for ELLs, which is to unravel complex reading selections, analyze how the authors craft their viewpoints or arguments, and then produce a well-organized evidence based essay. Could you do that in another language after studying abroad for a year or two?”

As a ELL student, I agree with Ms. DaSilva. According to state education officials, Pearson Education will be paid approximately $108 million over its 4-year contract to administer PARCC. The money that is spent to give the test to ELL students, who can’t read it, is wasted. That money could be better spent giving ELL students more educational and cultural opportunities.