Ryan Wants New York State Education Department To Increase The Number Of Languages Offered For State Exams

Despite Numerous Languages Spoken By Immigrant and Refugee Students On Buffalo’s West Side, State Education Department Only Offers Math, Science, and Social Studies Exams In Five Different Languages – Students Must Often Rely On Translators To Complete State Exams

BUFFALO – Today, April 13, 2016, New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan urged the New York State Education Department (SED) to increase the number of languages available for state Math, Science, and Social Studies exams for grades 3-8. Common Core ELA exams were taken last week, and Math exams are taking place this week for grades 3-8. The SED offers translated Math, Science, and Social Studies exams in Spanish, Russian, Korean, Haitian Creole, and Chinese.

In a letter to SED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Ryan noted that on Buffalo’s West Side alone, there are dozens of languages spoken by immigrant and refugee students from countries across the globe. In schools on Buffalo’s West Side, prominent languages spoken include Burmese, Karen, Somali, Nepali and Arabic. Students who speak these languages must rely on a translator to verbally translate the exam, which increases the amount of time needed for the exam, and puts many students at a disadvantage from other students who have a translated copy of the exam available to them. New York State contracts with a company called Questar to create exams. According to figures provided by the International Institute of Buffalo, it would cost approximately $1,700 to $3,500 per language to create exams in additional languages.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan said “As state testing continues this week, the State Education Department needs to realize that many more students are in need of translated exams. SED currently offers translated Math, Science, and Social Studies exams for five languages other than English. Many students who attend school on Buffalo’s West Side are immigrants and refugees from dozens of different nations. These students often speak Burmese or Karen, or literally dozens of other languages. The SED needs to make it a priority to offer translated exams for these students. Students in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and all across the state are negatively impacted by the lack of translated exams. SED is spending over $44 million for a contract with Questar to make these exams. Our students should be getting translated exams in a wide variety of languages as a part of this contract. The cost to translate tests in additional languages in minimal, and SED should make more translations available for the next rounds of testing in Math, Science, and Social Studies.”

A copy of Ryan’s letter appears below.

April 13, 2016

MaryEllen Elia
Commissioner of Education
New York State Education Department
State Education Building
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Commissioner Elia:

I write today regarding the availability of translated Math, Science, and Social Studies exams for students in grades 3-8. Last week, and continuing this week, New York students in grades 3-8 are taking ELA and Math exams in schools across the state. Unfortunately many students will be struggling to take the Math exams because translations are not offered for the language they speak. The State Education Department (SED) currently offers translated Math, Science, and Social Studies exams in Spanish, Russian, Korean, Haitian Creole, and Chinese. On Buffalo’s West Side alone, there are dozens of languages spoken by immigrant and refugee students from countries across the globe. In schools on Buffalo’s West Side, prominent languages spoken include Burmese, Karen, Somali, Nepali and Arabic. Students who speak these languages must rely on a translator to verbally translate exams, which increases the amount of time needed for the exam, and puts many students at a disadvantage from other students who have a translated copy of the exam available to them. SED must address this continuing problem, and demand that Questar provide translations in additional languages so that all students are accommodated.

Many students living on Buffalo’s West Side come to the United States as refugees. Attending school in Buffalo is often their first experience with a formal education. These students are already struggling, and the concept of testing is brand new to them. The lack of translated exams only compounds the situation. These students often speak Burmese or Karen, or literally dozens of other languages. The SED needs to make it a priority to offer translated Math, Science, and Social Studies exams for these students. Students in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and all across the state are negatively impacted by the lack of translated exams. To be clear, I am not requesting that translators be removed, and be replaced by translated exams. Translators still play an important role for many students who are illiterate in their native language. Having both translators, and translated exams available will be the best solution for our students.

We also know that because of the lack of translated materials, these exams do not accurately reflect what students have learned. This has a spiraling effect, and creates many significant problems. Students in need of translated exams often perform poorly, and their poor grades reflect negatively on their teachers. We then we have situation where teacher evaluations are skewed negatively because students don’t have access to translated exams. Finally, poor teacher evaluations can lead to schools being closed for underperformance. A vicious cycle is created simply because New York State does not provide translated exams for a number of common languages.

I am encouraged by recent efforts taken by your department to put programs into place to assist immigrant and refugee students. Providing translated exams in a wider variety of languages incredibly important for thousands of students across the state. I would like the state to develop a plan of action on how to accomplish this goal. This plan should focus on what it will take to increase the number of translated languages offered to our students. I reached out to the International Institute of Buffalo, and according to their figures, it would cost approximately $1,700 to $3,500 per language to create exams in additional languages. I believe this is a worthy investment of SED resources. Certainly funding is an important consideration, and I would be more than willing to work with you to determine how we can increase state funding for this important priority. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this important matter.

Sincerely,

Sean M. Ryan
Member of Assembly

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