Some activists are worried that ESL classes are hindering Asian students more than helping them. Activists for the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Portland, Oregon have spoken out in an attempt to get the school system to recognize the problems and hopefully provide a solution that will enable the Asian students to succeed in the district’s middle schools and high schools. Unlike some other languages, inadequate translation services are not the problem; it’s the assessments that are proving to be an issue.
Could Different Languages and Dialect be the Problem?
Some school officials in Portland say that the varieties of Asian languages and dialects are part of the problem. A recent study done by Portland State University has shown that only two local Asian ethnicities were meeting state education benchmarks. The ethnicities are Japanese and Korean, but the city has a large population of both ethnicities, making professional translation services easier to find and provide for ESL classes. However, Joseph Santos-Lyons, Development and Policy Director for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, says that the problem is not just that the languages and dialects are more numerous, he says that the problem goes much deeper than that. He says that if this problem involved other more high profile minorities, the problem wouldn’t even exist because it would have already been solved.
One Vietnamese activist, Thach Nguyen, says that a large part of the problem is that Portland school districts do not separate their data by ethnicity. In Portland public school, the graduation rate for Asians is about 73%, which is higher than the graduation rate for all other students in the district. Nguyen says that this is good, but the success masks the dismissal rate for some Asian ethnicities, like Vietnamese students. However, Nguyen says that these dismissal rates are not because the translator services or ESL classes are not bringing the students up to speed quickly enough, it’s because students are often put into ESL classes when they don’t need to be there.
Inadequate Assessments Put Students in the Wrong Classes
The assessments done by Portland Public Schools are not adequate enough to help place various Asian students in the classes they need to succeed. Nguyen says that students who speak adequate English are being placed in ESL classes and are not learning the skills they need to get into college, and the assessment tests are to blame. The assessments do not fairly measure a student’s ability to speak English and are causing some Asian students to languish in classes that teach them nothing. Students including Vietnamese students, Thai students, Korean students, and Mandarin students are not getting access to the courses they need for college because they are placed in non-English classes and left there. It’s not that the Chinese students need better access to Chinese translations for more time in ESL classes; it’s that they need to be in the English classes so that they can get a solid education like everyone else!