Substandards of learning

—Wyclef Pawn

A: Well, Wyclef, as we all know, this little old One-Nation-Under-God is doing its damndest to make sure that no Miss Nelson is missing and every little Mohammad and Jesus can “See Spot run.”

 And, if you’ve noticed our fresh-off-the-boat Somali Bantu refugees wandering down Preston looking a little dazed and confused, then you know Charlottesville’s popular with our world’s downtrodden. In the past year alone, the International Rescue Committee has relocated approximately 200 refugees—hailing from Afghanistan to Burma—to Charlottesville, says Susan Donovan, regional resettlement director for the Charlottesville IRC office.

 But if they look out of place on Preston, imagine how the children of these refugees feel sitting in the lunchroom next to the kid eating Gogurt in a Power Rangers t-shirt. So, down to beeswax. What about those standardized tests?

 In short, under the federal government’s current guidelines, each and every little Dolie (a popular Somali name) must take standardized tests, just like little Jane who grew up in Greenbrier (even though it typically takes seven to 10 years to become proficient in a foreign language). But the tests aren’t always exactly the same.

 According to both Bev Catlin, instruction coordinator for the city schools and Jean Wollenberg, international/ESOL coordinator for the county schools, students with the English language skills of babies can substitute their scores from SELP (Stanford English Language Proficiency tests, designed to test English language progress) for the reading portion of their SOLs. As for the math, students can opt to take that portion in plain English—meaning its instructions are given in more basic English. Once they’re talking in paragraphs, it’s sink or swim, kids. Hope you packed your floaties.

 As for being ready to accommodate these students, they’re trying! Along with initial screenings, both city and county schools provide special, pull-out instruction for ESOL students.

 So, Wyclef, at the very least, there are lifeguards on the beach at the Education Ocean. And, should our ESOL students go swimming in rough waters, there are lifeguards on hand to take note if little Dolie is, as the poet said, “not waving but drowning.”