Our schools—unlike schools in other countries with large immigrant populations like Canada, Australia, and Sweden—do not have systematic or consistent bilingual or second language acquisition policies and practices, thus placing our English Language Learners (ELLs) at a disadvantage. We must correct this problem. Effective educational strategies for immigrant students should include: 1) placing ELLs into progressive and systematic programs of instruction that identify each student's incoming literacy and academic skills; (2) consistency of instruction, since frequent transitions place ELLs at considerable disadvantage; 3) high-quality English instruction accompanied by transitional academic supports—like tutoring, ongoing second language instruction, homework help, and writing assistance— as English language learners become integrated into mainstream programs; 4) annual assessment including portfolio assessment and testing to measure progress and adjust further interventions.
Stop high-stakes t ests.
The current high-stakes testing creates unintended consequences for new immigrant students, which outweigh whatever benefits standardized tests may have. Immigrant students typically attend highly segregated and impoverished schools, are not exposed to optimal quality curricula, and undergo multiple school and programmatic transitions. Their performance on such tests is dismal. Not only are many immigrant youth tested before their academic language skills have adequately developed, a linguistic torture of sorts, but all too often their day-to-day educational experiences are shaped by instruction that teaches to elemental skills. An eye on the omnipresent "adequate yearly progress" is at the expense of advanced academic content knowledge.
The status quo is neither engaging on a day-to-day basis nor does it prepare these students for the higher order cognitive tasks required in today's ever more competitive global economy. High-stakes tests have become the de facto language policy—for too many immigrant students it leads to school disengagement, dropping out, and wasted potential.
What about the drunk? A friend leaving the bar sees him looking for something by the corner lamppost. "What are you looking for?" asks the friend. "I lost my keys," comes the slurred response. "You lost them here?" "No, in the bar. But it is dark in there." Like a disoriented drunk, we are not looking at immigration where it matters—the challenge of integrating the largest number of children of immigrants in history into the fabric of our nation.