Visiting Portugal

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I spent a few, confused days in Portugal once. As I was watching my bilingual students take the PARCC test, my thoughts flitted back to that driving tour of the Iberian Peninsula. As I toured the classroom, proctoring, I thought of my experience with the Portuguese language. Written Portuguese saved me; I had studied French and Spanish. Portuguese is an amalgam of these two languages with quirky accents and a few other Latin irregularities. I can mostly figure out written Portuguese. On the other hand, when people talked at me, I immediately became lost. The idea that struck me, though, was that I was probably more competent in written Portuguese than a number of my bilingual students — maybe even most of my bilingual students — are in English. They blasted through sections of that test simply because they could not read the test. When I asked “Micky,” one of my students, about the PARCC test during a later tutoring session, he said: “I didn’t know any of the answers so I just wrote things.”

He laughed. That laugh had the sound of resilience. Some students get clobbered by these standardized tests, tests that are pitched years above their learning levels. Others detach, like Micky.

Eduhonesty: I’m glad I don’t have to grade the PARCC. I can’t even imagine what some of those graders think. I wish I did not have to give the PARCC, at least not to everyone in my classes. For some students, that test makes no sense at all — either for them or to them. We need a better testing system, one that takes into account a student’s academic mastery. We will learn much more from data from questions that our students actually attempt to answer. Micky’s data is useless; I guarantee it.