[Assessment 1172] Re: (no subject)

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Forrest Chisman forrest at crosslink.net
Thu Feb 7 22:38:59 EST 2008

Dear Kevin,

Many thanks for providing all of us with a profile of your program. Seeing
the variety of college program goals and designs is extremely valuable in
stimulating ideas about how to do a better job in delivering ESL.

Personally, I think that it is perfectly valid for colleges to elect to
offer solely pre-academic ESL at the non-credit level. But it does prompt
the concern about whether other programs in the college's service area are
providing non-academic ESL to large enough numbers of students and at a high
enough quality to "feed" the college program - as well as how well their
efforts articulate with yours. I wonder whether this troubles you, and if so
whether/how you have addressed the issue. Frankly, I think one reason why
many colleges offer comprehensive ESL programs is that they would prefer to
"make" pre-academic students themselves, rather than rely on others to do
it. Another reason, of course, if that they may not be eligible for
federal/state grant money unless they offer comprehensive programs. Does
your college receive these funds to support its pre-academic program? If
not, how is it supported financially?

I heartily agree that helping students set realistic goals and understand
their options is essential. I believe, however, that encouraging students to
expand their goals as they succeed is also essential. For example, many
immigrants come from countries where going to college is the privilege of
very few, and thus may consider that an unrealistic goal unless they are
encouraged to take the steps necessary (often one step at a time). The
problem seems to be that it is hard for most programs to find the resources
to provide very much guidance of any of these kinds to most students. I
wonder if anyone has any solutions to THAT issue.

In any event, many thanks for fleshing out an interesting model.


From: assessment-bounces at nifl.gov [mailto:assessment-bounces at nifl.gov] On
Behalf Of Hinkle, Robert
Sent: Wednesday, February 06, 2008 9:19 PM
To: assessment at nifl.gov
Subject: [Assessment 1148] (no subject)

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

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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