Becoming multilingual, let alone a multilingual nation, is a challenge. But we continue that effort because the return on investment is incalculable. Only one in five people speaks a language other than English at home. America has had a case of cognitive dissonance when it comes to linguistic diversity.
We salute seekers of freedom and opportunity, but in 1882, the “Chinese Exclusion Act,” halted Chinese immigration and prohibited Chinese from becoming citizens. It was repealed in 1943, when China was our World War II ally against Japan. Others have suffered religious intolerance and political paranoia.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, public and private schools offered bilingual or even non-English instruction. Pressures for assimilation, however, gave rise to English Only instruction.
Education is key to success in the skills-driven global economy, but we leave many children behind. Between 1973 and 2008, the share of jobs requiring a post-secondary education more than doubled to nearly 60 percent.
The challenge of becoming a multilingual nation
Founded in 1947 to improve educational opportunities regardless of family background or connections, ETS advances quality and equity in education worldwide. Unlike a corporation that rewards shareholders, ETS reinvests its revenues in programs and in educational research.
We have conducted research on and administered English proficiency assessments since 1964, when we developed the Test of English as a Foreign Language – the TOEFL test – to assess English proficiency of applicants to English-speaking post-secondary programs. In 1979, we introduced the Test of English for International Communication – the TOEIC test – to assess proficiency in the workplace.
The nation’s 5.5 million English learners (ELs) are the fastest-growing segment of our K–12 school population (11 percent of K–12 students). In 2008, ETS hosted a national symposium on ELs, and in 2010, we began to study their needs in earnest. We met with experts, researchers, teachers and principals, conducted focus groups and hosted two symposia.
We learned that:
1) ELS are poorly served
2) They are often misclassified and branded as slow learners.
3)Teachers often lack preparation for diverse classrooms. So we consign students to futures of underachievement and under-productivity, and their teachers to a lack of….
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