May 12, 2022

Arthur Goldstein: NYSESLAT Gave Me COVID

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A New York City teacher talks about one more unpleasant side effect of relentless testing during a pandemic. Reposted with permission. 

NYSESLAT is the test the state uses to test the level of English Language Learners.


In case you’re wondering why you didn’t see Exec. Board minutes here yesterday, you now know. On Saturday, I took a second booster and then drove to Costco. I was walking around the store when I started to feel really disoriented.

I decided to get out of there without buying anything, and drove home very much hoping not to pass out or something on the way. I thought I was having a reaction to the booster.

I went right to bed, and later in the day developed a very sore throat, which a friend had told me was her first symptom. I took a home test, and both lines turned bright red immediately. After an interminable 15 minutes, the test remained that way. For a few days I stayed in bed, forcing myself to drink water. Yesterday I saw a doctor online, and she gave me an anti-viral med. This morning I was able to get up and make breakfast, and actually eat for the first time in days, but I’m not quite up to walking the dogs, one of my favorite things to do.

I was pretty surprised to test positive because I took a PCR test in school on Wednesday and tested negative. I’ve also been masked virtually all the time in school, and whenever I visited stores. So I had to wonder where the hell I caught the bug from.

Now I’m pretty sure I know. I spent all of last week giving a speaking test to English Language Learners. Of course I couldn’t give them to my own students because NYSED assumes I’m a criminal who will pass everyone simply to make myself look good, with no regard whatsoever as to their placement. I’m going to talk about that a little before I get back to COVID.

One thing I noticed as I tested students one level above mine, the lowest, was that several of them were no more advanced than my students. There are two reasons for that. One reason is that it is not, in fact, corrupt teachers who place students in too high an English level. It is the test itself, which is the very worst standardized test I’ve ever seen. It was probably developed in a test tube. I’m sure they give valuable lip service to real teachers while this work goes on, but it is, nonetheless, total crap.

The second reason is the NX grades we were forced to issue last year. I’m not opposed to the concept of being merciful under extreme circumstances, and I know there were sincerely good intentions here. However, everyone was promoted regardless of mastery. And the fact is, whatever makeup work students may have done did not likely equal what original teachers had intended.

On the test, there is a glaring run-on sentence, a comma splice very much in need of a conjunction on the speaking script, which the students read. (Let’s ignore the fact that, by allowing them to read, we are not measuring their listening skills at all.) They capitalize the word “sun” for no particular reason. These are errors I’d certainly expect from my beginners, not professional test-writers demanding exorbitant sums for their work. I am absolutely certain my colleagues and I (or you and yours) could place these students more accurately, and that we could help them more than the state. I deem the state incompetent.

Aside from the miserable quality of the test, the fact is we now have a variant that is more contagious than Omicron. Every day I sat with a series of students, face to face for extended periods of time, often leaning in very closely to hear what they are saying. You won’t likely be surprised to hear that some kids are very shy with their new language, and deal with this by speaking in a near-whisper. This process was markedly different than what I’d been doing all year, circulating to see what my kids were doing, giving them oral or written comments, and moving on to my next student. I didn’t have time to sit for 15-20 minutes with anyone.

I’ve been wearing KF94 masks consistently. I’ve been eating lunch in my car, something I really hate doing. But I’ve tried as hard as I could to stay safe. Now I have COVID, and my wife, who is at least as meticulous as I am, has it too. I blame NYSED for this, and I’d sue them in a heartbeat if any lawyer told me I had a case. We started this year with social distancing. While regs have relaxed, it’s still totally irresponsible for us to be doing one on one oral exams.

I’m grateful that UFT negotiated non-CAR days for this purpose, but all things considered, I’d rather be at work. By work, I mean teaching, NOT giving a pointless exam so as to satisfy Betty Rosa and the Regents, none of whom appear to have the remotest notion of what language learning entails.  They seem to think if they sufficiently ignore the need of English Language learners, they will magically disappear.

The process of individually testing students for the NYSESLAT, which is wholly a waste of time anyway, should take place entirely on Zoom. Any school leader who reads this and chooses to run it otherwise is being either capricious with, or indifferent to the health of staff.

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