Latest test errors are on city-produced foreign language exams

For some students, final exams administered on Monday posed an extra challenge.

Months after a spate of errors on the state’s elementary and middle school exams caused parents and educators to charge that test-makers are held to lower standards than its teachers or students, more mistakes have come to light. This time the errors are on high school foreign language exams developed by the city Department of Education.

This year, local districts were required for the first time to create the foreign language exams that students can take to fulfill graduation requirements. The state had produced Regents exams in several languages in the past but eliminated them in a cost-cutting move last year.

Department of Education officials said the new requirement would be easy to meet because the city already created tests for less commonly studied languages such as Hebrew and Chinese. But when students sat down to take French and Spanish exams on Monday, errors quickly became apparent.

Students who took the French exam were asked a multiple-choice question with more than one correct answer.  In one part of the Spanish exam, students were asked to choose two out of three questions to answer, but only given two options. And a printing error meant that the rubric students were supposed to use when structuring their essay on the Spanish language exam was missing.

Directions supplied by the city explained that the rubric would arrive separately from the regular test booklets. But students did not receive the rubric until after the test, said Arthur Goldstein, an English as a second language teacher and union chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School, meaning that they had to complete the essay without knowing exactly how they would be assessed.

Jelani Brown, a student at Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice, did not take the Spanish test this week. But she said she had taken exams with writing rubrics before — and can’t imagine completing the exam without them.

“You would just have to put 80 extra points on my test, because I wouldn’t know how much to write or what order to put it in,” she said.

The city released guidance about the errors and issued changes to the scoring key for Spanish, French, and Chinese exams shortly before teachers began to grade them.

But Goldstein said foreign language teachers at his school reported other mistakes that the city had not acknowledged. A Spanish teacher noted that all the answers in a question about bananas, which takes the feminine case in Spanish, were in the masculine case. A French teacher noticed one question used the English word “and” rather than the French “et.” And a Chinese teacher came to Goldstein with concerns about how to score a question that included a grammatical error.

“My best advice to her would be to follow the marking guidelines and cover herself, because they make mistakes, but if you don’t follow directions, it could be your fault,” Goldstein said. “It’s a tough line to walk when you speak the language better than the people who write the tests.”

Students have long taken achievement tests in foreign languages. But they have never been required for graduation. Now, with a new teacher evaluation system that takes student performance into account on the horizon, the stakes attached to the tests could increase for foreign language teachers.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.