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Documenting the Undocumented

Documenting the Undocumented

By Ann Truax

The principal stood in front of the faculty, framed by her chart packs filled with current statistics. It was the speech all teachers have endured. Here's the familiar scenario. We look at the aggregated results of students' performance on standardized tests. We recognize the categories: Exceeds expectations, Meets expectations, Does not meet expectations. Then we examine the disaggregated data of the sub-groups.

Sadly, my school, an urban high school on the west coast, followed national trends. Certain subgroups — African American, Hispanic, English Language Learners (ELL), and Special Education Students (SPED)­ — did not meet expectations that year. As a result of our "failing" subgroups, my school continued its status as a member of NCLB's ignominious list of schools not making adequate yearly progress. We were heading down NCLB's stairway from needing improvement to the dark basement of reconstitution or state takeover. This dishonorable descent creates clouds of doubt, even panic, in any teacher's heart. We know and love our students; we see their enormous potential; they delight us daily with their comments and antics. We attend workshops, confer with colleagues, spend endless hours in meetings, and submit to advice from outside consultants — all in the name of our students' growth and progress. Yet, the numbers are cold, ugly reminders that the government finds our efforts and our students' performance lacking.

As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, I am most connected with the Hispanic, Asian, African, and Eastern European students comprising a vigorous ELL population. As I looked at the data, I felt increasingly agitated by the act of turning the faces of my students — Lidio, Carla, Hoang, Sheyla, Ibrahim — into statistics.

But, even worse, I was angered by the disingenuous governmental stance toward my Latino students, over half of whom are undocumented. These students, without green cards or Social Security numbers, are expected to be invisible; they are the casualties of a national double standard. For the purpose of NCLB's adequate yearly progress, my students "count;" and, if they don't perform up to standards, headlines point accusingly at schools. Yet, in the broader society, my students are unambiguously left behind. The official message is: keep test scores up, keep the dropout rate down, and maintain high attendance rates. The unofficial message is: undocumented students don't matter. They're ineligible for college scholarships, they have no health care, their parents work long hours at minimum wage jobs, deportation is always a possibility, poverty is a reality. The hypocrisy outrages me.

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