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Higher Education

The Question of Placement

By Marianne Hsu Santelli

Thank you to all who joined us for the Higher Education Mini-Conference (HEMC) held at this year’s NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference. Thirteen excellent HE workshops were held on Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Take a look at presenters and HEMC workshop titles at http://njtesol-njbe.org/.

The HE SIG (Higher Education Special Interest Group), The Question of Placement Part I: Assessment and Outcome Evaluation Models, was facilitated by Howard Pomann (UCC: Union County College), Bill Jiang (BCC: Bergen Community College), Elena Nehrebecki (HCCC: Hudson County Community College), and Harold Kahn (BCC). On Wednesday, May 25, Jerry Paris (NJIT: New Jersey Institute of Technology), Nancy Silvestro (PCCC: Passaic County Community College), and Heidi Lieb (BCC) facilitated Part II: Placement and Retention Models.

In Part I, Bill Jiang, Harold Kahn, Howard Pomann, and Elena Nehrebecki discussed assessment. It is important to note that some programs had integrated skills while others had separate classes for each language skill.

At HCCC, assessment was ongoing and based on the model for final assessment. Level success is determined by passing the level Test in Writing and another one of Reading, and satisfying the paired course requirements. A portfolio option for writing and reading is available to support student skills when test scores misrepresent a student’s actual proficiency. In these cases, instructors can petition for their students by submitting portfolios, which were based on the descriptors for entry into a next level.

The Final, or exit assessment, consists of the holistically scored tests of Writing and Reading, which determine student readiness for mainstream English courses.

At BCC, there was an exit exam at the higher levels; students who failed could repeat the test. When students passed the level 3 writing exams, they were able to take English composition courses. When they passed level 3 reading, all college courses were open to them. Jiang and Kahn noted that many students failing the L2 reading test was more of a linguistic issue than one of literacy; a language issue needs time to perfect. On the other hand, literacy issues require more than just time. Jiang and Kahn also noted that about 40% of BCC second language learners already possessed college degrees and had come to learn English.  At the lower levels, class instructors, with the aid of a level-wide final exam, determined a move from one level to another. There was a greater failure rate at the lower levels. At the upper levels, exit exams in reading and writing were the determining factors. At these levels approximately 75% moved on to a subsequent level.

At UCCC, there were 6 levels of instruction and a two-semester composition course (ENG 111/ENG112) equivalent to ENG 101. Students in the ESL program were identified through application questions, an interview, and by an in-house advanced placement test. Course assessments were made through quizzes, tests, mid-terms and final exams, and projects and presentations. Program assessments were made via Level 6 LOEP Reading, a Final Holistic Writing, and data on retention and GPA of Level 6 completers and ENG 112 completers.

In Part II, Jerry Paris, Nancy Silvestro and Heidi Lieb reported on results from the New Jersey ESL/Bilingual Administrators Council survey conducted for the spring 2009, (seven 2-year colleges, eight 4-year colleges). There were many changes to ESL placement instruments, most often linked to implementation of ACCUPLACER in 2009.  Generally, there were two kinds of ESL programs: 2-3 levels of ESL at four-year institutions and 5-6 levels at two-year institutions.

Methods for placing second language learners into ESL levels varied and depended on whether the institution was a 2-year or a 4-year school. The most common method of identifying second language learners was by students’ answers to questions either at admissions or at testing.

Multiple criteria to identify ESL placements were used in almost all programs with about two thirds of responding institutions replying that they relied on electronic instruments as part of an ESL placement process. Essays were part of the placement process in all programs, except one where the essay was the sole placement instrument. All 15 respondents used an essay or writing sample; most used human—not machine—scoring and it was the ESL program and/or ESL director who set cut-off scores. Only three institutions included non-ESL placement procedures.

Satisfaction with current placement procedures varied and depended on whether control of the procedures rested with ESL chairs/department coordinators or with testing directors outside the ESL program; in the former situation, there was satisfaction with the procedures but in the latter there was some dissatisfaction. None of the three institutions using a non-ESL placement instrument was satisfied with their instrument, which in two cases was Accuplacer (Presentation slides are at http://njtesol-njbe.org/handouts11/default.htm).

Five institutions had generation 1.5 activities in place, but only 3-4 institutions had specific programs targeting generation 1.5 students.

In an effort to retain students at BCC, Heidi Lieb discussed activities tailored for the large Korean student population whose productive skills in speaking posed problems for them in classes and for faculty as well. Through a focus group, the Speech Department found that Korean students felt that: 

Immediate results of the focus group were a workshop on culture of the American classroom for students, and two workshops for instructors: one on the Korean language and one on Korean culture.

Recommendations to help retention were: for students, a workshop on American classroom culture as a regular part of the curriculum, and continuing efforts to involve Korean students in the college community; for instructors, more workshops and discussion to increase cultural and linguistic awareness and sensitivity.

Issues of placement, evaluation, assessment and retention will continue to generate discussion as student demographics continue to change; but we have begun the discussion. How we approach these issues and what we do with our findings is a grand opportunity for the future.

Space and time prevent my summarizing other wonderful higher ed. workshops or to even mention the other informative sessions held during the two-day conference. However, you can review some presentation handouts at http://njtesol-njbe.org/handouts11/default.htm , including the session that Jane Ostacher, Ellen Measday and I put together, Excite, Elicit, Encourage, Enjoy Academic Vocabulary Development.

I have reported on the HE SIG session, but there were other terrific sessions. I want to thank you for making the Higher Education Mini Conference a success: presenters who put together workshops or sessions, participants who attended and discussed, and the HE SIG panelists: Bill Jiang, Harold Kahn, Heidi Lieb, Elena Nehrebecki, Jerry Paris, Howard Pomann, and Nancy Silvestro.

This is my last column for Voices. I leave excited that higher education will have greater presence and better voice through the new collaboration at the NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conferences.

Marianne Hsu Santelli has been the Higher Education SIG Representative. Reach her at msantelli@middlesexcc.edu or visit her at http://alpha.fdu.edu/~msantell.