Letter: Educator’s experience offers theory on ISTEP

From: Sharon Hart,


I read the article in the Oct. 6 Republic, “ISTEP drags down school ranks: 7 elementaries, Central, Northside drop; but East, North remain steady.” The school officials want to drill down into the data to find out why.

How about immigrant students having problems with the English language? That could cause problems in understanding the test questions and thus affect their answers. If they are having language problems, they probably are not doing well in classwork, either, and they will probably drop out of school at 16 — which could also explain why the high school grades don’t change very much while the elementary and middle school schools do. If the problem is the English language, it will make no difference whether the ISTEP test is done on computer or on paper.

Which schools have the most immigrant students and how well do they understand, read, write and speak English? That is the first thing I would check out. But then I was a Spanish and English teacher, including teaching English as a foreign language in Spain.

The English grammar isn’t so difficult, my students told me, but the spelling is horrific. For example, how many ways can “ough” be pronounced?

My point is that while they may understand English and speak it, they may not recognize a word when confronting it on a test. They probably don’t have the vocabulary of a native speaker, either. It doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent and can’t learn or aren’t learning, but it can certainly affect their performance on a test and thus affect their schools’ ranking.

Diversity can be great, but it can also mean problems.