This week our 3rd graders started taking the ERB CTP-IV, the standardized test in English that many independent schools give. We have also moved the 3rd grade testing to be in September in order to use the test as the diagnostic tool it was intended to be, and we are doing it online for the first time. It is how much we learn about our students and their thought processes that provokes this week’s post.
The test manual directs the teacher to read aloud to the students: “click on the circle next to the answer you believe is correct.” One of our students raised her hand and said, “Do you mean the oval?” Her question was not meant to be cheeky or sarcastic, but instead to be more precise, to find the best word. It is, in fact, an oval that the students are asked to click.
This example was not alone, and it shows one of the intricacies of being a bilingual student. Our students see problems from different perspectives – instead of simply following directions, they often observe and query the question itself, as well as its possible answers. Our students have numerous words for things, which can lead to an ability to be precise and hone in on the nuances of language, to find the best words for communication from a perspective that is multifaceted. On the other hand, both the ability to perceive questions from a variety of perspectives and their broader sense of vocabulary can impede their success on standardized tests, which rarely give leeway for different answers, no matter how brilliant they are. Our students still do quite well on these tests, but sometimes the test’s limited language does not allow our students to demonstrate their full abilities.
Luckily, we are an independent school and thus can use the tests to mark the progress of our students, and as one of many diagnostic tools. We can listen to the teachers and look at the work of the students to see and hear their true ability and potential. We can gather the daily evidence of life in a bilingual school to conclude that immersion has expanded the minds of our students, who can click on the correct answer while also exploring the question itself.