As an increasing number of Spanish-speaking students attend Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) schools, questions about equality in standardized tests have been raised. People have begun examining the traditional tests exclusively in English, and questions are posed of whether or not standardized tests and assessments should be translated into Spanish in order to give all students an equal opportunity to do well. This question need not be as controversial as some may make it seem, rather, it should be addressed in the simplest way possible. Besides a few exceptions, BUSD standardized tests should not be translated into any language other than English.
At first glance, this statement may appear bluntly conservative. However, further examination actually proves it to be the opposite. If you want to teach someone a language, translating everything into their native tongue is an inefficient way to do so. When I first entered BUSD schools — my first language not being English — I couldn’t speak as fluently as my classmates, let alone write. Yet after barely a year of full English immersion, I became completely fluent, both in writing and in speaking.
Of course, I was in my own specific situation, and in no way do I assume to claim that my experience can encompass that of others. Everyone has a different story, and with the discrimination people of Latinx descent face, the resources needed for one to quickly become fluent in English might not be as readily available as they are for someone coming from a traditionally “white” European country. Nevertheless, translating standardized assessments is not the appropriate answer; doing this would only be detrimental to an English learner. It would not adequately prepare them for life in the United States, a country in which the inability to speak English lowers your chances of getting the life and job you deserve.
So what should be done to ensure native Spanish-speakers have an equal opportunity at a successful education and future in the United States? Several solutions have been suggested, one of which BUSD has already implemented: English Language Development (ELD) classes. Offered through grades K-12, these classes are assigned based on an English-language test that students take to determine their English proficiency level.
Unfortunately, possibly as a result of poor funding, the current ELD classes are inefficient. When asked about his experience in the classes, junior in the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) and former ELD student Rafael Garcia said, “I dropped out. I wasn’t gonna learn anything.” He then went on to explain how even though the teacher was trying, the system just wasn’t effective enough. All classes are taken through the ELD program, meaning that despite the efforts of teachers, students often end up breaking into smaller groups, identifying more with classmates of their own linguistic background. This means that rather than becoming more fluent in English, students end up speaking their native tongue throughout the duration of class.
ELD classes are the best solution, but not in their current state. The system should be modified so that the students are able to replace a standard English class or an elective with an ELD class. This is not to say that no assistance would be provided to those who struggle to speak English. Certain assignments, especially those given early in the immersive process, and particularly ones given in math and science classes (or assignments in which prowess in English is not imperative), should have some copies translated to the student’s native tongue. This, in conjunction with the English immersion received from their other classes, will guarantee them a fair and effective road to English fluency.
English is a language that is indispensable to one’s future, especially in the United States. Translating standardized tests, which are often meant to assess one’s English linguistic skills, is counterproductive. If we want to aim for genuine political and racial equality, we all need to be given the same opportunities to succeed. If that requires speaking English, there is no reason to exclude Latinx people from that right.