Play fair on student testing

The third-grade reading scores released last week should not be taken at face value.

On the surface, they make it appear that Bea Underwood, Esma Lewis, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale elementary schools are doing a lousy job of teaching.

That is not what’s going on.

Each of those schools has a high percentage of Spanish-speaking students. Yet the scores of Spanish-speakers are rolled in with those of native English speakers as if there was no difference in their ability to take a reading test in English.

The state Department of Education reported that just 38 percent of Carbondale Elementary School third-graders are reading at proficient or advanced levels, compared to a statewide average of 74 percent.

But split the Spanish-speakers from the English-speakers, and the numbers tell a different story. Only 22 percent of the Spanish-speaking students scored as proficient or advanced readers, while 63 percent of English-speakers scored at those levels.

It’s time the state and federal governments played fair in recognizing language differentials on test scores.

The focus should be on the growth of each child from one year to the next, like the notches on a door jamb that mark a child’s height.

State performance tests, however, are like snapshots of each year’s third-grade class, lacking the context of where those kids have been, and where they are going.

The solution is not to embarrass and excoriate schools that will inevitably tally lower scores because of high numbers of Spanish speakers.

The answer is to buckle down to the long, time-consuming job of teaching immigrant children a new language, without short-changing English-speaking students from their fair share of teaching time.

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