Education Corner 8 - Understanding Evidence in English

by Richard Womack, Ed.D - 10 DEC 2015

Several weeks ago I attended an FSM workshop to discuss results of the National Minimum Competency Test (NMCT) in Reading and Mathematics. These tests, developed by our good partners from the Pacific Resources for Educational Laboratory (PREL), are the only FSM nation's educational student assessment instruments developed for FSM use at present. In all the FSM schools reading tests are given to 6th, 8th and 10th graders and math tests to the 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th graders. The results of students, their scores, are our evidence of student learning in English Reading and English Math. I say English Math because it is taught and learned using words. You always hear that math is a "Universal Language" as if was spoken by everyone. While a formula y=mx+b is the same world-wide the teacher must explain using words. It must be explained that the formula is about the slope of a line-how steep a line is, the angle of the line and even if the line is backwards. The teachers teach this and the students learn this in English. To keep everything simple our students' academic achievement rises and falls on students' ESL skills. EC readers understand this—you do not have to like it and many don't. It does not mean we ignore our vernacular languages but English is the name of the game for academic success—like it or not. This has nothing to do with intelligence and there are many geniuses that do not speak English and many brilliant people who have never been in a school classroom. It's a skill to be taught and learned. If we want improved evidence it will come from improved English teaching. Moreover, I am considered fairly competent with English because people see me reading, writing, listening and speaking English at a high level. But I cannot teach English—I was not trained in this special skill. Not only must our teachers be highly competent in reading, writing, listening and speaking English they must teach the language-knowing English and teaching English are not the same. . And while I do not have such skills I admire our teachers as they work at this. But we must do more than admire effort we must improve the teachers so they can improve the students—and their evidence on tests as the NMCT. The U S Government would like improvement in FSM and Pohnpei and ties this improvement to our funding for education. While this is important we cannot think this way. We want improved scores because they indicate our children are building their foundation for academic success. We are going to improve—but we are not doing this for the United States—we must do it for ourselves.
Continuing, at the workshop participants reviewed the reading and the math scores data but most important the participants learned more about a very difficult subject, statistics. Important for and all information was presented in English. As said, English is my native language and I have even taught a little "basic statistics" to my students— of course in English. I do not know about the other participants but I had to keep my brain in high gear and listen very carefully. Because statistics is difficult but everything was in English and I was grateful. The PREL consultants and the group discussed a "Student Report Card" something that took the students' scores and could show parents (and the community) how the students performed in everyday language to everyday people. The question was asked— should this "Student Report Card" be in the vernacular language? I wondered to myself if statistics even in vernacular could be made clear to parents.
Continuing further, I slipped out of the workshop and headed for my Parent Club meeting at Nett School where we have a 6th grader. My wife Kanep had to attend to a family emergency and sent me on my own—armed with my college degrees but with only poor Pohnpeian language skills. I saw many of my fellow parents (and caregivers), friends, and family. I was greeted warmly as Kaniki not Dr. Womack and always in the vernacular. The Parents Club President was the only exception—he acknowledged me publically and I said in my weak Pohnpeian "I will help the school in any way I can" waived, sat down and kept my mouth shut. The rest of the meeting I could always "get the drift" but when they began talking really fast about specifics on some construction—I was lost. I can get by and understand the general but often get lost in the specifics. I thought about the "Student Report Card". Most of the folks at the meeting had English skills about like my Pohnpeian. A group of parents in the U S would not likely understand the "stats" in their own language so I am unsure just how this evidence on reading and math will made clear to my fellow parents at Nett-regardless of language.
Finally today EC concludes with old some news and some good news. The old news may be new news to EC readers. Imagine this-every teacher in every grade must teach standards in all the following besides reading and math. Every teacher in every grade (1- 8) must teach—science and social studies. Every year in every grade the standards require Science as Inquiry-Earth and Space Science-Life and Environmental Science- Physical Science and Technology-Marine Science-Civics/Government-History— Geography-Culture and Economics. Every teacher in every grade is responsible for teaching all of these. Are all of these taught by every grade and every teacher? Are there books for students and teachers for every subject every year-every grade?- Wisely in these subjects PDOE is beginning this month to test every single elementary school teacher on the science and social studies standards. We must be sure that our teachers understand before they teach. That data will show us where teachers are weak so we can provide Continuing Education. Together with the testing and we will survey all curriculum materials in every elementary school—every grade and every room. Then we make the appropriate books at the appropriate reading levels. EC will give you updates on this project and with data you will understand and show you exactly how PDOE intends to get good student learning evidence in science and social studies.