By now, you have certainly heard of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the infamous education legislation passed in 2001. What you may not be aware of is how NCLB can negatively affect Native language preservation programs in Indian communities across the country.
The NCLB Act requires schools to test students’ English proficiency beginning in kindergarten. Many language immersion programs avoid introducing any English into the curriculum until 5th grade. All classes are taught in the target language, and this has been shown to significantly improve target language outcomes for students (the most common alternate approach being one language class per day that focuses on the target language). Approximately 5,000 U.S. students are currently involved in language immersion programs at their schools.
Here is a sample question from the LAS Links© exam, an assessment administered to kindergartners that fulfills the testing requirements of NCLB:
For Grades K–1, students select written words to match those spoken by the Test Examiner, and match pictured objects to their written descriptions.
The Native American Languages Act passed in 1990 declares that education policy should “encourage and support the use of Native American languages as a medium of instruction.” By penalizing Native immersion schools whose kindergartners can’t demonstrate English fluency, are we really honoring the commitment to “encourage and support” the use of Native languages as a means of instruction? Is fluency in English so important for Native children’s future success that it should be evaluated at 5 years of age? Should these tests be offered in Native languages to evaluate literacy, rather than English fluency?
What do you think?