«A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education in the Graduate Division of ...»
Satisfactory language competency included the ability to use the appropriate language for specific curricular areas, but also to consistently use Spanish in the classroom situations in which it was required, whether with the teacher or with other students for a variety of purposes. In fact, I discovered from Ms. Gomez that permission to participate in the fifth grade trip to El Molino depended upon each students’ consistent use of Spanish in the classroom, and students were assigned to the various talleres based on their use of Spanish in the classroom. Most of the assessment of language competency took place in each classroom, conducted by each teacher as part of her regular assessment of curricular competency. That assessment included a focus on Spanish language usage in the context of their writing and speaking activities. However, neither the district, nor Midville Elementary, had ever instituted regular, standardized assessment of language competency or proficiency across the entire program. The only standardized assessment related to the use of Spanish that took place at Midville Elementary was the Spanish-language version of the STAR test, APRENDA, which had been applied to all 2nd-5th graders beginning in
1998. All Spanish Immersion 2nd-5th graders took both tests every year, but the product of those tests was not knowledge about the specific language competency of individual students. However, one external study of the language competency of one class of students had been conducted in 2000, by a member of the Midville High School World Language department as part of her Master’s degree in Multicultural Education.
Comparative language competency: Spanish Immersion 4th graders and high school Spanish 4. Gemma Menand (pseudonym), a well-respected teacher of high school French and Spanish, conducted her study during the fall of 2000 with a group of 22 fourth grade Spanish Immersion students, from the first cohort of students to complete the program, and 18 Spanish 4 (non-AP) students from Midville High School. Her purpose was to compare the competency of students whose language learning had taken place under two different methods of instruction, Two-Way Immersion and the communicative approach to World Language education, at that time the dominant model of World Language education at Midville High School. To make that comparison, she used two well-established methods of assessment, an oral interview, the California Oral Competency Interview (COCI), and a written exam, the California Writing Competency Assessment. Each of the two assessment tools assessed student competency in terms of increasingly complex and creative ways of using language; their categories were
1) Formulaic: lists of words and formulaic expressions that are memorized and sometimes broken and recombined,
2) Created: various sentence types are in evidence and ideas begin to flow across sentences,
3) Planned: created expressions and ideas begin to flow in a planned paragraph.
These three categories were employed for each assessment, and each was further broken down into low-mid-high ranges, indicating a continuum of competency with “Formulaic low” at one end and “Planned high” at the other.
Menand reported that as a result of the writing assessment, she could conclude that the 4th grade students in the study were more proficient in Spanish language writing skills than were the high school students, based on her data which indicated that nearly twice as many high school students ranked in the Formulaic level than did 4th grade Spanish Immersion students (55.54% vs. 27.27%), fewer high school students than Spanish Immersion students reached the Created level (38.82% vs. 54.53%), and significantly fewer high school students than Spanish Immersion students reached the Planned level (5.5% vs. 18.18 %). She further concluded that the 4th graders surpassed the high school students in several ways, including their vocabulary and sentence structures. They revealed, she argued, that they had learned Spanish as a result of regular exposure through their daily use of the language for their content learning. In all, they compared favorably in their written fluency to native speakers of Spanish.
Ms. Menand reported similar findings related to her oral language competency assessment. High school students placed mostly in the Formulaic (42.84%) or low-mid Created (42.84%) levels, while Spanish Immersion students placed mostly in the Created (59.08%) and Planned (27.27%) levels. While her study was a simple one, limited to a small group of students, the results might have raised interesting questions for district official as middle school Spanish teachers lodged complaints about the language competency of Spanish Immersion students entering their classes. However, the study was never used to try to understand what language competency meant within the Spanish Immersion program, in comparison to what it meant in the high school World Language classes. Even as the middle school Program Review took up the topic of assessment of the language growth and competency of Midville Elementary’s Spanish Immersion students, no one raised the possible contradiction between the results of Menand’s study and the perception held by middle school teachers that the Spanish Immersion students lacked basic language competency.
Secondary Spanish Language education: Assessment as gate-keeping tool.
Having been charged with bringing materials on assessment to the Program Review group, Mr. Bell presented assessment tools to the group at the second large group meeting (10/21/08), focusing on an initiative of the St. Paul Public Schools in support of language assessment in their K-12, 900+ student program. Having received a Foreign Language Assistance Grant in 2003, the St. Paul Spanish Immersion program developed a comprehensive assessment plan, based on clearly defined goals, the first of which was to “define common beliefs and find common ground around assessment in order to develop an inclusive atmosphere in which participants could feel ownership of the work” (Arabbo, 2006) They developed an assessment plan for reading, writing, listening and speaking that focused on “what students do with language, determining what they have learned as well as how well they are learning it” (Arabbo, 2006). Their dual focus on what students do with language and how they learn it, and their reference to “specific areas of weakness in language learning,” seemed to point to some of the same tensions the Midville program had experienced over the years, and was experiencing in these meetings. While elementary Spanish Immersion program teachers and administrators may have been interested in “what students do with language,” Mr. Bell commented that up to now there had been no mechanism in place to assess “the language capacity” of Spanish Immersion students as they moved from 5th to 6th grade (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08).
During his presentation of the St. Paul initiative, Mr. Bell raised the question of “how [to] get an appropriate set of goals that address transitions that are acceptable to parents, students and educators” and identified that question as being fundamental to developing an assessment plan. He pointed the group to one possible goal, Spanish Immersion students’ entering Spanish 3 Honors in their 9th grade year, and asked whether the program review group wanted to consider that or a whole different set of goals.
Though he entertained the possibility that assessment goals could focus on something other than high school World Language placement, he oriented the group toward that concrete goal, even pointing them toward St. Paul’s preference for high school International Baccalaureate programs over Advanced Placement courses as fitting better with the goals of their Spanish Immersion program (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08).
It seemed reasonable that Mr. Bell would look toward the concrete goal of high school World Language placement as a way to try to unify the divergent interests of the Program Review group, given their wide range of interests in and orientations toward assessment, and his orientation toward World Language education. The elementary Spanish Immersion teachers oriented toward content-area and literacy assessment, and had been using APRENDA, a Spanish-language version of the California STAR test, to measure both literacy and curricular knowledge. Reinforcing the elementary Spanish Immersion orientation, Ms. Fisher further drew a connection between assessment and curriculum, arguing that alignment in assessment could mean an alignment in curriculum.
However, in the context of Midville’s program, a new assessment plan could only serve to inform elementary and early middle school curriculum, since secondary school district officials had made it clear that changes in high school curriculum were off the table.
Highlighting the conflict between the elementary Spanish Immersion and the secondary World Language communities, parent participants expressed interest in assessment that connected to their perceptions of their children’s language learning. One parent member told the group that, after their kids had left the elementary program, parents asked themselves whether their kids were learning Spanish. She felt the need for clear benchmarks for what sorts of language kids would learn in middle school (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). The parents’ perception that students were learning less Spanish in middle school, seemed to come into conflict with the perception of middle school teachers who had been critical of the quality of students’ Spanish language production, who questioned how well students had learned Spanish in elementary school. According to parents and elementary Spanish Immersion teachers, Ms. Morelli, the most recent middle school Spanish Immersion teacher, instituted her own placement practice to control the quality of students’ language as they entered 8th grade World Language courses. She began using final course grades for the 7th grade Spanish Immersion course to determine whether a student should be allowed to enter the highest level of Spanish in 8th grade, Spanish C, a course designed for Spanish Immersion students. A student with a B- would be allowed to enter; one with a C+ would not, but would be directed toward Spanish 1B, a course populated by students studying Spanish for only the second year (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08). The problem of mixing such students with those who had been learning about and in Spanish for eight years was evident, and the practice was clearly meant to be punitive, and emphasized perceived language deficiencies.
Further reinforcing this deficit orientation, Mr. Sanchez, the middle school Spanish language teacher, expressed an interest in beginning language assessment in kindergarten (Fieldnotes, 10/7/08). In response to a discussion about how students develop language skills and knowledge from elementary through high school, Mr.
Sanchez stated directly that some students had not acquired adequate language in elementary school (Fieldnotes, 10/21/08). Mr. Bell’s response, that the group needed to find a “weaving between correct language usage and using language” could not mitigate the overwhelming emphasis on the need to assess students’ Spanish language acquisition to understand what the students lacked in language knowledge and correctness by the time they entered high school, and where the elementary Spanish Immersion program was going wrong in developing the students’ language.
The secondary World Language community in brief: “Language as problem” and assessment as gate-keeping tool.
Though past content-based assessment through APRENDA, years of elementary teacher data from their classrooms, and the teachers’s study of 4th grade Spanish Immersion students’ language development might have provided positive data related to the elementary students’ language development and competency, the concerns raised by the middle school Spanish Language teachers, and taken up by Mr. Mann as the students entered secondary Spanish Language classes prevailed in the discussions of assessment of Spanish Immersion students’ language development. A “language as problem” orientation during the Program Review contributed to the presentation of assessment tools as a means of gate-keeping for the secondary Spanish Language classes. While the lack of data from standardized assessment could have led the participants to want to know what Spanish Immersion students could do with their Spanish language, no one expressed interest in knowing how competent these students actually were. Instead, the focus on assessment assumed the identification of specific language acquisition problems.
Community 3: Midville Middle School/Two-Way Immersion and World Language education.
The Midville Middle School community was represented at the meetings by three individuals, two of whom would have important responsibilities in implementing the program developed by the group.27 However, neither of these individuals, Midville Middle School Principal, Mr. Worth, and Spanish Language teacher, Mr. Sanchez, directly represented the interests of the Spanish Immersion program. As Midville’s principal, Mr. Worth represented the varied interests of the whole school community, of which the Spanish Immersion program formed only one small part. As I will discuss, he presented an approach that was neutral to the interests of the Spanish Immersion program, but focused on the structural problems such a program presented for the running of a school. Mr. Sanchez, while having had experience with the Spanish Immersion program, currently represented the interests and ideologies of the World Language program, and functioned as an extension of that program in the middle school. Mr.
Sanchez expressed a deficit view of the Spanish Immersion students and elementary program, one that Mr. Worth could not effectively address or counter because of both his inexperience and focus on the global school environment.
Midville Middle School Principal, Mr. Worth: Logistics and school structures.
Vital to the future implementation of the new program, Mr. Worth was Midville Middle School’s brand new principal, on the job for only two months prior to the first planning meeting. While he had attended one of the meetings between district and school officials and Spanish Immersion parents the previous June, he had little experience at the time of the Program Review with either parents or students of the Spanish Immersion program.