12 Hours of Testing


I’ll say it plainly. English Language Learners have 6 hours to complete each of their 5 required regents exams, and they usually take at least 5 of those hours. Oftentimes, the tests that are required of them fall on the same day, which means they have to sit for 10-12 hours of paper-and-pen tests in a language other than their own. I use the word required. There are no other options but to walk out and fail. And when they fail, they take the test again. It’s not uncommon for ELL kids to leave High School having taken well over a hundred hours of regents exams, at 6 to 12 hours a clip; many times this puts them in a holding pattern until they turn 21 years old. Have you ever sat for 12 hours to fill in bubble sheets with your entire future on the line? It happens three times a year, every year, for more than ten years, and while I’m glad “opt out” etc. is getting the attention it deserves, nobody seems to have noticed what’s going on with the ELLs. I actually don’t understand – I’m not being rhetorical or dramatic. I don’t get it.

But Huskie, I understand it sucks, but what about standards? They need to know English if they’re going to live in this country!

            I mostly agree with that, but again, when was the last time you, or anyone you know, sat for 12 hours of bubble sheet testing? After they graduate, drop out, or age out, when will they ever have to do that again? Can you think of any other possible way in the world to test for competency in English? A better, more authentic way? A humane way? There is no other way to put this. If you suspected a parent was making their teenage kid kneel and pray, or read sheet music or watch game-tape, or do practically anything while holding still and not talking, for 6 to 12 hours a day, all for the privilege of being considered a “grown-up”, then you’d call CPS. This is nothing less than child abuse.

But Huskie, I know it sucks, but we have a professional and ethical responsibility to uphold the law! What about our personal integrity?

            Here’s a dirty little secret: instances of cheating on exams are much higher within the ELL group. We catch them every year. That shouldn’t be a shock. There’s a breaking point when you raise the improbability of a task to virtually impossible, at the same time raise the irrelevant bullshittedness of the task, and all the while keep the stakes as high as they will go. If I told all of you that you had to memorize π to thirty places by tomorrow, or else you lose your job, then some of you would cheat.

I’m sick of hearing about “professional duty” and “ethical responsibility.” Using that same yard stick, Huck should have returned Jim to his rightful, lawful owner. Instead, Huck decides to “go to hell.” We teach The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in our AP Literature class – it’s required, so presumably we’re supposed to learn lessons from it. If challenging and opposing the state, and challenging and opposing those shoulder-shruggers in our midst, means that I’m unprofessional, unethical, and am going to hell, then screw it, I’m going to hell. I’ll be in good company.

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