A discussion of the pros and cons of providing Spanish literacy versus English literacy instruction, and the Spanish GED; how NLL (Native Language Literacy) contributes to the development of second language; critique of the NRS and how the system measures progress.
To all of you who commented on level of prior education as a factor in student performance:
Everyone with whom Jodi Crandall and I talked believes that more highly educated students do better in terms of persistence, learning gains, and transitions. And learning theory would lead us to expect this. Regrettably we found very little hard data about how much difference prior education makes, because too few programs track the level of prior education of their students and correlate it with outcomes. DO any of you do this? That is, do you have any data on HOW MUCH difference level of prior education makes? Or any strong impressions? And are there "cut points" in prior education that seem to make a difference -- e.g. students who are completely illiterate, students who at least reached high school, high school graduates, college graduates, etc. -- or is level of prior education pretty much of a continuum?
More importantly, what can programs DO to narrow the gap between highly educated students and those with less prior education? Presumably students with very low levels of education are more likely end up in the lower level ESL courses (Literacy or Low-Beginning levels) why are (almost by definition) in the business of teaching basic literacy and sometimes math. Why isn't this enough? In your experience, does the "gap" exist at these levels too, or mainly at higher levels? At any levels, would it be desirable to place less highly educated students in separate classes from those with more education and adjust the curriculum/support systems for them accordingly? Some programs have tried "native language literacy" or the Spanish GED. What has been the experience of any of you with these approaches? Any other ideas? IS there an adult ESL equivalent of "bi-lingual education" that should be tried?
It seems to me that we need to come up with better ideas. Because the people who study immigration tell us that the level of education of immigrants has been falling. And if Immigration Reform mandates large numbers of undocumented people to "learn English" (whatever that means), ESL programs may be swamped with students who have very little education in their native countries and too little money to serve them. So anyone who has any ideas about how to bridge this "education gap" could help us a lot by posting ideas about how to close it on this discussion list.
I like the idea of separate classes for those with a literacy background and those without. These two groups have such different needs. Having both in the class make it difficult for a teacher to meet the needs of either group well and I find that often the stronger students dominate the class, and their drive push the teacher forward. If the instructor does not keep up with the students who are learning at a faster rate, they often become frustrated and leave or mentally check out. However, if the instructor keeps up with those students, the others are unable to keep up and they get frustrated.
I think that literacy could perhaps be separated out. And regardless of how you do it, well-trained instructors are essential.
Problem is that in many ESL people are placed in ESL classes based on an English placement multiple choice test. A student with advanced education in L1 and one with little education in L1 may know very little English and they may both be placed in the same level. The student with advance education will progress much faster than the one with little education. The advanced L1 student will understand concepts like sentence, paragraph, verb, subject, direct object, adjective, composition and essay readily. The one with little education will need to understand these concepts. It takes a while for people to master these concepts. A highly educated L2 learner will likely progress faster academically in a second language than a fluent native speaker of that language with limited academic education, for the same reason. This is observed regularly in universities all over the US. Highly educated foreign students who acquired English as L2 recently will do better than their English speaking counterparts in academic tasks in English. Jim Cummins has articulated this clearly with his BICS and CALPS. (See: http://www.iteachilearn.com/cummins/bicscalp.html).
In our program at El Paso Community College we have found evidence of this. We stopped doing literacy ESL a while back for this reason. The college has an academic ESL program. Instead of doing ESL literacy we started offering Spanish Literacy and GED many years ago since the vast majority of our students are Spanish speakers. Once our students acquire their Spanish GED they transition into the ESL program and do better than those students who don't have L1 academic skills. Even if takes them a while to acquire the L1 literacy, they will do better. Those with no L1 literacy often stay in ESL forever and they drop out, start again in another program, drop out and continue the same pattern. I think that this happens because of the mixture of academically ready students and those that are not ready, since most ESL programs focus on traditional academics. For L1 low literacy students to be able to progress in L2 there has to be a program specifically designed for them that teaches skills in L2 in new and innovative ways without interference from academically skilled L1 students. Right now we don't have a system that systematically does this, and the WIA/NRS system prevents this form happening.
Hope that this makes sense,
It is great that you provide Spanish language literacy and GED classes for your students. There's no question that native language literacy contributes not just to the development of the first language, but also to English language development when students take oral ESL classes. There is some research in this area by Michele Burtoff with Haitians in the U.S. and there is a lot of research (see especially research by David Ramirez which compares children who had 6, 3 or no years of bilingual education) that shows that providing bilingual education not only has all the benefits that would be expected, but students also achieve in English as well or better than those who only had instruction in English.
We also found that Spanish GED classes had large numbers of students at the colleges, since students who take the GED in Spanish are able to bypass the need for extensive ESL just to get this credential. They might want to take ESL as well, but the desire for the GED is often for work-related reasons. I'm not clear on why you ask students to wait until after they have passed the GED to take ESL classes. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Of course not all students who enroll in adult ESL are Spanish speakers and there may not be enough who speak any language to provide literacy classes for them in their own language, but programs might try to partner with immigrant or refugee-related community-based organizations which could reach more students and also identify someone to provide the instruction. Still, there will be students who will not be able to take literacy classes in their own languages and for them, a separate ESL literacy class seems to be the best option.
It would be great to hear from others about their experiences both with first language (Spanish and other languages) literacy classes, Spanish GED classes, and literacy ESL classes.
How do you place students in your literacy classes? Do you use a standardized test or do you have informal ways of determining if someone would be better served in a literacy ESL class?
The credit ESL program in the college is very academic. However it provides students with financial aid and other goodies. We feel that the students will not do well in a credit academic ESL program until they have a level comparable to GED in their native language. Also, a GED certificate is a way to demonstrate ability to benefit to qualify for financial aid. Those students who get into the credit ESL program without native language literacy don't do well.
Students can attend other ESL classes in the community while they are attending our classes. We stopped providing ESL because of limited funding to provide what we would consider meaningful ESL. Also, our Spanish GED program is fairly intensive and our students would not have enough time to attend an additional program. We have a few students who may be attending our classes and an ESL class concurrently. Those are a minority
The truth is that we started as an ESL literacy program many years ago. There was virtually no funding for literacy ESL unless it had all kind of testing requirements. Also, it is very hard to train teachers to be really good at ESL. The system that encourages large number of untrained part timers prevents this from happening.
I know that a lot of people in these listservs claim exemplary service and illustrate with examples of what they have done. I don't doubt that their claims are 100% true. However, we are in the minority. If I could get you and Heide and Elsa and Andy Nash and Leonore and Deborah Schwartz, and Anson Green and Federico and others to be my ESL teachers, I would have the best program in the world. However, the fact is that in addition to the barriers that ESL students face in their daily lives, plus the bureaucratic and assessment barriers that the system creates for teachers and students, plus the difficulty hiring and retaining highly qualified ESL staff makes it very difficult to have a successful ESL program.
I feel that until we get rid of WIA/NRS it will be tough to create good stuff in a systematic way.
Thanks for this. If the Spanish GED program is intensive, then students would probably not have time for ESL and if they do, attending classes at another program in the community makes sense.
I also understand your desire to focus on more academic ESL. I'm also curious to know if your college also offers career/technical training. Does your academic ESL program align with what's needed there or do you offer integrated Vocational ESL and Vocational/Career/Technical training programs?
I think we all empathize with the limited funding and the amount of resources needed to meet NRS reporting requirements.
This is a fascinating approach. Do you apply it to all of your ESL students, or just the ones at the Literacy Level. It would seem to take a long time for students to advance through Spanish Literacy, the Spanish GED, and THEN ESL. Does it? What percentage of students who start down this track eventually transition to college? And can you say more about the policy barriers you mention?
What do other folks think about the design Andres describes? Have you tried any part of it? Would it work for you? If not, why not?
The approach works for our program because we are a Spanish speaking community where we can pretty much teach native language literacy. It would be tougher to implement in other communities with a mixture of immigrants.
Regarding progress, the majority of our students start at an average 6 grade education in Mexico and have been out of school for a while. Most of our students are migrant/agricultural workers. It takes approximately a year to a year and 1/2 for them to earn a GED in Spanish. Our lowest level student had a 2nd grade education and earned her GED within 21/2 years. She was very motivated. If they have above 6 grade education most complete a GED within a year. Below six grade it takes between one and two years.
Problem with ESL is that students tend to get lost in ESL systems. Most ESL programs don't provide an outcome that has validity beyond the particular ESL program unless it is a credit college program. So, students will enroll for a few months to a few years of ESL and then stop and will not really have much more than a certificate that states that they were in ESL. Unless they get immersed in an English speaking environment, if they don't continue in a program they end up forgetting what they learn and starting again in a different ESL program.
With WIA/NRS, there is no incentive to move students beyond a few levels because satisfactory progress is measured by students progressing form literacy ESL to beginning ESL. Students may progress a few levels of ESL, the program shows progress and the students eventually stop attending. They often reappear in another ESL program starting at the lowest level. I doubt that there are any programs in the entire country that can show that they had ESL students that started in literacy ESL and progressed through all the levels and earned a GED in English. There may be examples of a few students but they will be statistically insignificant.
I am not arguing that there is no value in ESL instruction. However, there is no value in the way the system measures progress. It does so through standardized testing that measures a limited range of academic skills and has little value to the students. So, the teachers are caught between teaching the students valuable things that may impact their life (such as health, immigration, legal rights, etc) and making sure that they show progress in the BEST Plus or whatever else. The pressure of the teachers to help the students show progress in these tests before they drop, prevents them from teaching the meaningful things that people like Heide Wrigley, Elsa Auerbach, Rima Rudd and others advocate for. I know that some teachers make the compromise between trying to mix BEST progress with meaningful knowledge. However, it is tough. Especially since the only measure of progress is the BEST plus. Also, "bringing literacy to life" and "making meaning making change" are very difficult things to do unless teachers are trained extensively in this, and devote their entire efforts to do this sort of stuff and have the right combination of knowledge, skills and abilities. Mixing this stuff with BEST plus is even harder and most cannot do this.
I certainly agree with what you say about the limits of WIA/NRS. And I'm glad your students progress so fast. But what percent of them earn the Spanish GED? Also I'm not sure what happens to them then. Although El Paso may be a Spanish-speaking community, our discussion here is about how to teach students English. Having attained a Spanish GED, do your students then take ESL classes? If so, how many of your students take ESL classes, and how far do they advance in learning English BY ANY MEASURE?
Certainly the mix of skills that should be taught in non-credit ESL is an arguable topic. As I understand it, most programs teach "life skills" English at the non-credit level. They try to use the sorts of topics that Elsa and Heide advocate as the content for teaching a progression of English "academic skills" (reading, grammar, speaking, etc.) up to about what (by tests made for native speakers) would be about the 9th grade level. Both "life skills" and more "academic skills" are presumed to be "portable skills" needed in an English speaking country. Programs do this in different ways. Some use a set curriculum; others use a more "Freirian" approach to insure the content is relevant to student interests/needs -- (see the profile of Yakima Valley Community College in our "Torchlights" publication). I'm not sure why you find this approach problematic. Can you elaborate?
I think you are right to raise the question of what the "terminal goal" of ESL should be. It's a question too seldom discussed. What do others think about it? My impression is that the terminal goal of most programs is rarely the English GED (although it is at Yakima - and a significant percentage reach it). Insofar as most have a "terminal goal" in mind it seems to be to help students "do better" at life and in work in an English-speaking environment. Effectively, students decide how much "better" is enough, because students "vote with their feet" when they think they have learned enough (or run out of free time and interest). But if "terminal goals" are entirely student-centered, it is hard to assess the success of ESL programs -- how much they benefit students. Anything goes! Hence most programs I know also define success as progression up a series of levels of English proficiency - the more progress the better. I've encountered few people who have a problem with this general concept of "success" (although it has no singular "terminal goal"). But many people have trouble with the standardized tests that measure it. Often locally developed tests are used to get around this problem.
For SOME colleges a secondary "terminal goal" is entry to and success in credit courses (or VESL programs) taught in English. This isn't a hard "terminal goal" to measure and has LARGE economic and other rewards, if it is attained. Thus I, for one, believe there should be more emphasis on it.
What do other people think of Andres' posting? Am I off base here? And how do you all think "success" by a student in ESL should be defined and/or measured? It seems to me that unless ESL programs aren't clear about what counts as "success," students may not be either. And that may contribute to low persistence and learning gains.
Jodi and Andres,
There is one very real problem with taking the GED in Spanish that I'm aware of. If you have two immigrants, Roberto and Juán, and they both apply for the same job and if Juán took the GED in Spanish and Roberto took it in English, guess who gets the job?
Yes, life isn't fair, but most U.S. businesses prefer persons who have gone "all the way" with English. My students and I have discussed this and they have seen or know of this situation with their friends and family members. That is why many AE students remain longer in our ESL classes. Of course in many border towns, this may not be as important since many of the employers are Hispanic or are native speakers of English who are functional in Spanish. However, many customers of the businesses will need to use English.
In my current class in Austin, Texas with eleven students, five different languages are spoken. Should we offer the GED in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Juba as well as Spanish?
How would the employer know the language that Julian took the GED in?
In most states the certificate does not tell you the Language. Texas is one of the few states that tells you the language. However, it is so hard to find that most people wouldn't even know. I have a hard time finding the language reference even though I have seen millions of certificates. Fact is most employers don't even know that people can take the GED in anything other than English, don't ask and do not scrutinize certificates to figure out scores, language, etc. A few might, but the majority don't. For low literacy Spanish speakers it may take them a couple of years to be ready to take the GED in Spanish. It may take them 2 more years to be ready for the English GED. Would you rather hold them two more years? They can take the GED in Spanish and continue to study English. Once they have sufficient English, they can decide if they want to take it in English or to move on to other things.
I'm not too sure that some of your perspectives haven't been somewhat altered by living in El Paso. I say that with total respect for El Paso and for your answer. Let me explain. First, I've lived in Texas most of my life, except for some time overseas. I know just about all of our border towns, from El Paso to Brownsville. I've also lived in nine countries outside of the United States and traveled perhaps in twenty more. AXIOM: All over the world, border towns are different from other towns. Persons, regardless of ancestry, who live in border towns anywhere tend to be bicultural and bilingual. They also tend to identify with each other on close levels as being a well-made "tossed salad." If most or all of your students plan to stay in El Paso for the rest of their lives, I totally agree with what you say. However, if they want to go to cities north of the border area; Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, Houston, Waco, or out of state, then the picture changes. I am almost as comfortable in Spanish as I am in English and have dealt with persons from every country in Latin America comfortably and successfully, as well as Spain. However, I do not represent anything close to a majority, particularly when it comes to having a business. When persons go for job interviews in non-border towns, being truly bilingual is a great asset and can even result in higher pay and better opportunities. That is true for Spanish speakers and English speakers. However, most of your persons who have had to take the GED in Spanish are not truly bilingual. That's a fact and when they go for a job interview, the human resources person doesn't need paperwork to know that there may be communication problems with clients and on the telephone. The fact is that life is short. However it is long enough for persons to spend a couple of more years acquiring English if it gives them more options in life. Again, if they plan to spend their lives in a border town, this may not be a problem at all.
Three years ago, my wife and I and one of our colleagues, took an ESL teaching gig at a cookie factory in Austin. Quite a few of their employees did not speak English and the company wanted to fix that situation. There were 27 persons who had volunteered to take English classes at work, maybe six hours a week. The first problem was how to determine divisions of 27 students among three teachers. I got out a brief "test" that I had used to determine readiness for the ALCPT tests in the past.
Here is a copy:
ORAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE
Block 2 Ted Klein
Questions marked with an asterisk * are mandatory. Of the remaining questions, ten should be selected at random. Speech of the interviewer will be at normal speed and clarity, with NO exaggeration.
- What is your name please?*
- Where are you from?*
- What part of XXXXXXX are you from?
- What is your native language?
- How long have you been in America?
- Do you read English?*
- Did you study English in your country?
- How long did you study English?
- Are you enjoying the U.S.A?
- What do you like here?
- Is there anything that you don't like?
- Have you studied any other languages besides English?
- Why do you want to learn English?
- How many years of education have you had?
- Do you have any hobbies? What are they?
- Do you have any American friends to practice English with?
- Do you work? Where?
- What are your plans for the future?
- Why did you come to America?
- Do you have any questions for me?
0 no answer.
0+ telegraphic/very simple response.
1 simple, but complete response.
1+ functional and clear response.
2 somewhat elaborate, fairly clear and mostly grammatical response.
Interviewees with ten or more answers in the 1+ to 2 range should be ready to take a written proficiency test of listening and reading skills. Non-readers are excluded. (ref: Ques. 6)
The three of us interviewed the 27 candidates together. 19 out of the 27 were not able to answer the second question: e.g. (Teacher) Where are you from?
(Candidate) ¿Mande? (Teacher) Where are you from? ¿Como? (Teacher) Are you from Mexico? (Candidate) México, "jes." One answered, "México, no, Peru sí."
The 8 students who were able to answer that question and maybe four or five more questions were assigned to an "advanced class." The others were split into two groups. What happened here? Many of these persons had lived in Austin for some time. Some for up to ten years. Most had families. The families naturally used Spanish at home, even their children who spoke English at school. They had Spanish-speaking supervisors. They watched television in Spanish. They ate at Mexican restaurants. They went to Spanish-speaking doctors. 95% of their friends were Hispanic. In plain language, if they wanted to stay at the cookie factory, making cookies, they didn't need English, although the company preferred that they know English for upward mobility. This program went on for three or four months. The company merged and our program ended. We did not use Spanish in class. In early training I use materials that I developed based on some of the old "direct methods;" picture flashcards, Cuisenaire rods, etc. and we also concentrated strongly on English sounds, particularly listening and identification. The program went surprisingly well and many of the students were very disappointed when it ended. They had already found some new places to go and some were acquiring English-speaking friends.
So what is the good news? Several of our former students have entered the Austin Community College AE program and are doing well. One of them is in my class now. She has a child and often works at night at the cookie factory. Sometimes she comes in looking very tired, but she's surviving. She wants to be a Certified Nursing Assistant. She'll make it! She plans to take the GED in English next year and enter the Nursing Program at ACC. Most of her future patients will not be bilingual and she will be ready for them.
That's about it.
Fascinating story. I once spent a lot of time looking at employer-sponsored "workplace education" programs, and found that their quality (given their goals) varied greatly. So did the corporate commitment. As I recall Levi Straus once had a good one in El Paso (run by the college), but it went away when the company moved all of its manufacturing to Asia. One interesting thing I saw in many of these programs was relevant to your final observation - a surprising number of students who participated in job-specific ESL went on to enroll in more comprehensive ESL programs. So if workplace education served no other purpose, it served as a recruiting ground for comprehensive ESL. Ultimately it seemed to be a matter of raising aspirations - people living/working in an entirely Spanish speaking environment got the idea that English as worth learning and that they could do it. Then they wanted more. In some cases the sacrifices they made were amazing - but they did make them. In a few cases, companies granted some release time as a "benefit" to facilitate this, after they had terminated their job-specific ESL programs. Any way you slice it, these were "feel good" stories of immigrants finding more opportunities than they expected in America.
I feel compelled to put my two cents in on the Spanish GED.
My experience is that both Andres and Ted have valid points. Here in Eastern Iowa, there are few bilingual employers. Employers that are bilingual rarely pay the best wages and are typically short of employees if there are any signs of INS.
On the other hand, many of the students who have completed the Spanish GED are already employed, and have fairly decent English skills, but are short on time. Attaining the GED provides them the opportunity for advancement at work and/or access to postsecondary education/training.
It has been excruciating to watch the one or two who insist on the GED in English get through the Literature and Writing portions of the test.
And the difficulty of the new Spanish GED tests are such that it is a rare student who can pass it. The old Spanish GED was attainable for most learners who had a 6-8th grade education. We have found that it is virtually impossible for anyone with less than a 10-11 grade education. By simply translating the English test into Spanish and then utilizing the standard scores/norms of the English test, students who have passed it, have EARNED their GED.
I think you've summarized how I feel as well.
We can discuss the various options with students, but in the end, if we offer Spanish Literacy and Spanish GED, it's their choice. Some will choose to do everything in English and take longer to do it, but others will choose to work in their own language. For some students, the Spanish GED provides short-term benefits. But they will still need ESL for future academic or vocational training, if they have limited English.
Have any programs tried to encourage students in Spanish Literacy or Spanish GED to take ESL classes as well?
Most of our Spanish GED students are attending the ESL classes as well.
Are they doing so at the same time? That's quite a commitment/motivation if they are. And it gives us YET ANOTHER example of how to use the Spanish GED.
The Spanish GED instruction is offered Tues & Thurs evening as a part of our Family Literacy program which is funded with Federal Benchmark Incentive $'s. They also attend ESL on Mon. & Wed. evening - on average they attend 4-6 hours a week. Some do 8 hours, but not all of them. Several of the students have attempted the official practice tests in English and Spanish. They typically do better in the Spanish, but have taken the parallel form in both languages and say that they understand the context of the Spanish better having read the English.
I'm with Jodi on this. Many people would take exception with the idea that the Spanish GED is too hard. I think people who have studied economic/educational benefits by and large think BOTH the English and Spanish GEDs, as well as high school diplomas, are TOO EASY. I believe the research shows that GED holders have a far higher rate of placement in developmental education than do high school graduates, but that data may be based on the OLD GED.
Don't forget that 1/3 of high school grads cannot pass the GED; that is how it is normed. The old test was a snap and the Spanish old test was a double snap, much easier than the English.
Mary Lynn Simons
Yes, that IS how it's normed. Yet norming has its limits. The same percentage of high school grads couldn't pass the old test too. But their referral rate to Developmental Ed. was higher than high school grads. As I understand it, both the GED Testing Service and ACT (which producers the Compass Test commonly used to determine whether students should be referred to Developmental ED) are trying to figure out why there is a difference between norming for other purposes and the norming for college placement purposes - and what to do about it. I hope they do. It's certainly in the interests of both to do so. In the interim, there is a cottage industry of transition programs trying to bridge the gap. Good for them!
Let me clarify... I don't know if the test is too hard - I am certain that it is significantly harder than the old Spanish GED.
I do not speak Spanish, nor am I a psychometrician, however, in comparison with the old Spanish GED that was written and normed with the Spanish speaking population, the new form of the GED - having been translated from the English, with the exact same content and questions as the English seems contrived to me. And more than one native speaker of Spanish has commented on the translations in the official practice tests. This may simply be my bias having worked with both forms of the test.
Regarding the placement of GED recipient in developmental education - I would wager that this is as true with the new test as it was with the old. If you read the 1956 Tyler report on the GED, they knew that the score of 225 (average of 45 per subject exam) on the GED was not really adequate for college preparation. However, they discovered that if they raised it to 250 (average of 50 per subject exam), college success was significantly enhanced. Nevertheless, they recommended the 225 as a passing score because if they increased the passing score to 250, several individuals who had been successful in college would not have had that opportunity.
An earlier dissertation topic that I abandoned for lack of a theory-base was to investigate whether a GED score of 2500 or 3000 might be a better predictor of college success than the 2250? Despite the benefit of better preparation, I'd hate to see the passing score be increased and make it that much harder for so many who need the credential to get their foot in the door. However, if my premise holds water, why couldn't colleges use the GED as they do an ACT and either not accept a GED student with less than a .... (pick a score), or if students with a score under ... (pick a score) is admitted, recognize that they would likely need significant support and/or remediation.
I agree the passing score should not be increased. The GED is not only for college; however, colleges and employers should become more familiar with GED scores. A score of 2500 is a much better predictor of positive college success than a score of 2250. I have taught the GED for many years and anyone with a 2500 score, I consider to be sharp. As for the Spanish GED test takers, many any are not familiar with the USA and may be puzzled by the test. They need to go to a Spanish GED class. The Spanish GED is about the US and most students have a lot to learn about American history, government, and literature.
Mary Lynn Simons
I think you have the story right - as I understand it. Of course colleges in many states don't require a high school diploma at all - let alone a GED score - for entry or placement. So it's unlikely they would start doing that now. What some Adult Education programs have done, however, is to counsel their college-bound students to defer taking the test until they can attain a higher score. While this advice isn't always heeded, they claim it has good results. I agree that the GED is used for many purposes and we don't want to unfairly disadvantage people. In fact, t may be used for too many purposes. Some people would like to establish a terminal goal of federal/stated funded Adult Education as a certificate of "college readiness" -- with the GED as just a step along the road. Thus far, USDOE hasn't been willing to buy into it. Makes sense to me.
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