[Assessment 1148] (no subject)

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Hinkle, Robert rhinkle at raritanval.edu
Wed Feb 6 21:18:58 EST 2008

Hi All,

I have been reading most of the discussion comments and wanted to address a few issues. First, however, I'll give a summary of our program.

I teach ESL at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey. Our program serves approximately 350 students from diverse language backgrounds. Our program offers two pre-academic levels of all skills ESL instruction (a six hour per week non-credit class). In addition, we have 5 levels of academic ESL preparation divided into three courses - Reading/Writing, Grammar, and Speaking/Listening). Our highest level Reading/Writing course gives successful students 6 elective credits that count towards RVCC graduation, but those credits do not transfer. Our semesters are 15 weeks. If a student misses 20% of any class, the instructor may withdraw that student (they are not, however, obliged to withdraw these students). At the moment, the late enrollment policy is that students may register for a course prior to the second week of class but not thereafter. Research, of course, indicates that students who begin a class late have a much higher rate of failure than those who begin on time.

In our program, we have three full-time faculty and approximately 16-18 adjuncts.

We have focused our program on academic prep ESL because we are a small program with limited resources, and we have a very difficult time finding qualified adjuncts. Also, a significant majority of our students have signalled their intention to obtain a college degree. Moreover, there are community programs that offer basic English skills although there is often a long waiting list to obtain the services. In other issues, we use the Accuplacer ESL test for placement and have in-house standardized tests at the end of each level of grammar and reading/writing

Within our classes, highly educated non-native speakers usually progress much more quickly. One of the most challenging groups is students who graduated from local high schools but still have inadequate English skills - and not infrequently, weak academic skills in general. One of the strategies that I would personally wish for is real communication between K-12 and community colleges so that students get the language skills they need before they enter college. I understand that there is great pressure to move students out of ESL in many school districts, but ultimately, it does a huge disservice both financially and in terms of motivation to students whose skills remain more BICS than CALP.

I agree with those who suggest that first language literacy issues should be addressed before students enter ESL. However, it becomes complicated to find funding and support for such efforts. In my experience, students with low level literacy skills become frustrated and are not ultimately successful - probably by any definition. I am uncomfortable with the idea that they are spending hard-earned money when the chances for success in ESL are minimal. We advise students that the program is academically-oriented; often they have little understanding of what that means.

I do not agree with the suggestion that the bar be lowered so that students with low-intermediate skills be allowed in credit classes (at least at my college). Historically, other faculty have little experience handling language issues and are very unhappy when students cannot read, write and converse at an appropriate level of English. They end up feeling helpless. Students may pass classes; however, I suspect that instructors do not want to deal with the challenges and so turn a blind eye and let them through. Recently, there has been a problem in the nursing department with non-native English speaking students not passing board exams because they enter the college from other programs and circumvent ESL with us. They have trouble reading and answering questions on the exam. This is a significant problem because nursing programs are judged in terms of the success of their students on these standardized exams.

I think the measure of success should be based on a realistic assessment of student goals combined with a real-life discussion of the possibilities and limitations. Ideally, students would have incremental goals so that success could build. If the goals for students with low literacy levels are not carefully discussed and planned, then they will likely encounter more failure than success because their expectaions will be unrealistic. The more we have the opportunity to talk to students, the more likely it is that they can develop short-term goals that are within their reach. Unfortunately, we have no control over the myriad of complications that accrue in their every day lives.

Apologies for the length.

Kevin Hinkle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of ESL/Adjunct Coordinator
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