After addressing a crowd of approximately 400 attendees of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) Conference in New Orleans last week, Assistant Deputy Secretary Dr. Rosalinda B. Barrera sat down with a group of 25 teacher leaders for an intimate, two-hour dialogue.
The teacher leaders from across the country discussed a variety of critical issues for educators, including the importance of having great principals who can lead reform at their schools. Some of the teacher leaders pointed to a need for more attention given to English learners at the high school level so that the strong support structures often in place in elementary and middle schools are also present in grades 9-12.
A key theme that emerged from the dialogue was involving parents in schools and at home. Educators also expressed the importance of providing instruction in a student’s native language when possible, even if some parents request an English-only curriculum because they want them to learn English well. The native language is an important base to the learning of all children, including acquisition of a second language, especially in the early years, they said. It’s also important for children to be able to communicate with their families in their native language.
One concern raised by the teachers was the lack of appropriate assessments for English learners. Because most standardized state tests are offered only in English, schools don’t have assessments in other languages to accurately reflect what English learners know and can do. One teacher noted that while scores on tests in English may indicate that a child struggles academically, tests in the native language might reveal a much stronger academic performance. Others argued that if tests were offered in students’ native languages, fewer children would be misidentified as having a learning disability simply because they were still acquiring English. NABE participants agreed that tests should be given in native languages wherever possible.
Antero Garcia and Patricia Crisp
Antero Garcia is a 2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches 9th grade English at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, CA. Patricia Crisp is the Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Department’s Regional Office in Dallas, TX. She is also teaches courses at Dallas Baptist University and the University of Texas, Arlington.
Read Antero’s response to the President’s State of the Union speech.