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Fairness for English Language Learners

Why we need to treat English Language Learners more fairly and recognize the progress that students make in learning English as they are also learning subject area content.

"Since NCLB has come into existence, we have had to go from teaching a full curriculum to a scripted curriculum aimed at the ISAT testing in our state. We are a rural school that is ninety percent Latino and 100 percent free and reduced lunch; we are also a whole school designated as Title I.

"These funds have to go toward keeping test scores up in the designated curricula and not toward our most at-need students, which includes our ESL's, who have to take the tests in English even when they have not been in our school for a year."

Larry Taylor
Elementary School Teacher
Caldwell, Idaho


"I am privileged to be an ESL teacher. I work with intelligent, creative, vibrant, and enthusiastic students whose native language is not English. The most dreaded activity for these students is taking the statewide ITEDS, our mandated standardized test. I see our students become apprehensive and anxious. The language learners are fearful of failing and ask if they are required to take the test.

"They want to know if they do not do well on the test, will they still be able to graduate. They ask if colleges look at their test score because they are concerned that a low score will decrease their chances of being accepted. They wonder if studying for the test will help and ask if I know what notes or chapters they can review from class that may help to raise their score. What am I to tell them?

"Despite all of our efforts to reassure them and prepare them, the reality remains that these tests are not fair to our English language learners. They do not adequately or appropriately assess their progress in learning—not only in language, but in grade-level content. The assessment is not an accurate measure of their true achievement. They remain in school and continue their education despite the many academic, cultural, economic, and established societal challenges they face. And what do we do to them? We force them to take a test that they are not ready to take. We make them cry in frustration to comply with a mandate. We ask them to reach a proficient level on a test, when they have not even reached a proficient level in the language necessary to complete the test.

"We lump all students together to take the same test, despite their many differences, and then look at their scores as if they all have the same access to opportunities, resources, and assistance that make all the difference in children's learning. Our students are being hurt—let's help them. Please, let's find another way—one that encourages, not discourages—our English language learners in our great public schools."

Carol Kula
High School Teacher
Muscatine Community
Coralville, Iowa


"I am a teacher of high school ESL students. In Massachusetts, recently arrived students from other countries are now required to take the tenth-grade state exit exams (MCAS) in their first year in the United States, without consideration of their English language proficiency. Many of my students have despaired when faced with the exam as early as November, if they entered the school as juniors.

"For some, English-language experience is limited to greetings and elementary commands, and they are asked to sit in a room for five days and answer questions that they can barely read. Most of these students come from countries where exams mean the difference between staying in school or entering the work world.

"My students are facing huge adjustment problems to begin with and challenges far beyond those of the average high school student. The state should not require that they be subjected to the added stress of a high-stakes test that they have no chance of passing."

Rosemary Jebari
High School Teacher
Belmont, Massachusetts


I am writing to share a small part of my experience with you. I am a Kindergarten Teacher in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My morning class this year included 13 bilingual and non- English-speaking children from eight different Asian and European countries.

"I returned to teaching kindergarten two years ago after having taught first grade for nine years. What I've found is that my curriculum now includes many of the same goals that I was responsible for teaching to first graders 10 years ago. While I see an improved expectation for all children, I am afraid for the children who are not ready to read and write at this time.

"I see children who must first learn the English vocabulary before they can read in English. I see children who have special needs (speech and language, developmentally disabled, or autistic impairments ) that prevent them from completely understanding the curriculum. I see parents of five-year-olds crying because they feel their children are failing before they've even had a chance to begin learning. I can't even imagine the thoughts and feeling of these children.

"What happens five years from now when we begin to see these children burn out? What happens to the joy, the love of exploration, and the love of learning that comes naturally to a young child? Yes, I think we need to raise our standards and expectations, but we must also remember that one size does not fit all children!"

Ann Marie Borders
Elementary School Teacher
Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, Michigan


"This year the state of New Jersey required all English language learners to take the access test, to determine language proficiency in English in listening, reading, writing, and speaking. I spent over one-and-a-half months testing my kindergarten and first grade students, rather than teach these most needy children in English.

"Testing such young children is an affront to their education and must be addressed."

Bettina Heller
ESL Teacher
Monmouth Junction, New Jersey


I teach newly arrived English language learners who are being tested after one year here and who are still not able to fully understand English. This causes them much unnecessary stress. Stop this unreasonable practice. Studies prove that they are not going to be proficient in English for three to seven years.  Be fair."

Leona Burdett,
ESOL Teacher
Salem Keizer
Albany, Oregon


"As a teacher and a parent, I have several issues with NCLB. I currently teach ESL. Research shows that it takes seven to nine years for a student literate in their first, non-English language to become proficient in English, yet these same students are expected to become proficient in English after one year of ESL education.

"Let's put some of these legislators for one year in a country in which English is not spoken, give them a language proficiency test, and see if they can pass it at a high-school level.

"In Pennsylvania, we are also required to give the Stanford English Language Proficiency test. It is my observation that this would suffice to mark a student's progress until they reach the intermediate level, and only then would they have a fighting chance to become proficient according to the PSSA, the Pennsylvania state test. A little common sense would go a long way.

"Also my only child is a special needs student. He realizes that he is not learning as well as his peers, so let's just reinforce this by making him take tests that regular students are struggling with. I truly wish that we were producing widgets, but we are not. Not all students are created equal, and as long as we can show progress for those with a learning problem, with language-related learning difficulties, or for those who lack some education because they are immigrants, NCLB does not make sense.

"Also, where is the technology? I would love to have several computers with Internet service in my classroom (my school is located in a neighborhood that is socioeconomically disadvantaged). How can we expect those who do not have the same advantages to do as well without a little help? Again, where is the common sense?"

Jayne Cutter,
ESL Teacher
City of Erie
Erie, Pennsylvania