Placement Tests For Higher Level English


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At the beginning of the year I transferred to Cleveland (as a sophomore) with two full English credits. I wasn’t required to take any placement tests for my next math or world language class, but I could continue to the next level anyway. However, I couldn’t move into IB English 5-6 despite having two full high school English credits. I asked if I could take a placement test to move into IB English 5-6 and I was met with a flat “No.” Guidance counselors seemed restrictive and unwilling to discuss the rigidity of the policy; meeting with my guidance counselor led nowhere because the general attitude supports that “it’s just not done.”

It’s recognized as perfectly sensible for students to continue to the next level of math or their chosen world language if they’ve earned proper credit. But, TAG English students are meant to work with their teacher in the ‘grade-appropriate’ course to develop an individual plan. This is not only unstructured with little accountability for the teacher or student to ensure challenge, but it takes excess time and effort that English teachers should be able to direct to struggling students, and not towards accommodation of an advanced student. While teachers are typically enthusiastic and constructive, it’s also not a system that will allow students to demonstrate additional rigor in their transcript.

It’s obvious that placement tests work well. Globally, colleges and private schools have been using placement tests for decades to ensure that students are challenged appropriately. Taking it a step further, sometimes tests are inaccurate representations of someone’s skill level; students should be able to provide previous writing samples and recommendation letters to prove their advancement if they choose.

Clearly, everyone should be exposed to different subjects in high school, but if someone is demonstrating a disproportionate strength in English they should be encouraged to advance further in that subject, the same way they would be allowed to advance in a world language or in math. It’s arguably more important for people to develop their English because in the U.S. it’s the most commonly spoken language. While world languages should be a priority, it’s likely not a life-skill needed to function in our country.

For subjects like Math, it’s fairly simple to place someone in a course because it’s a summative topic; every year certain topics are covered to properly lead into the next year. Whereas English courses do not have specific skill sections (similar to addition, subtraction, division, dealing with fractions, dealing with negative numbers, etc.,) that are carefully covered from year to year. It cannot be easily broken down into units because so much of it is subjective and non-formulaic. From my perspective, the only easily measurable things within English (beyond basic spelling and grammatical functions) are the level of critical thinking skills and previous level of interaction with different media that a given person possesses.

It could be reasoned that if someone has spent their educational career in the PPS system, the English curriculum can be designed to cover all relevant topics and classes can be arranged to lead into each other cohesively. However, this fails to address inconsistencies from school to school and state to state. There is no way to guarantee that every student in the city, state, or nation has learned the same thing in the same first/second/third year of English, and even if there were, cultural differences will impact someone’s advancement level.

Beyond the reasoning that challenge pushes people into new material, it breeds adaptation and creativity. As a society, when we serve differences among people, we create a healthier culture full of different perspectives. Individualization is the parent of development, this is the reason that specialized career fields are so encouraged. If everyone tried to balance several different careers at once, they would likely not develop enough to innovate in any of them. Also, it’s sensible that people want to spend time on things they enjoy. They have more emotional investment in the material and that will translate to intrinsic motivation for them to do good work in class.

Assuming that students were allowed to continue forward to the appropriate course, what would they take in their senior year? Students at Cleveland could arrange to take a college-level course with PSU’s Challenge Program that provides dual credit courses for advanced high school students, they could take an English-related elective, or they could simply take a class in another subject.

I advocate that students transferring into the PPS system that have not been a part of it for over a semester should be able to test into an English class that they want to take–or should be able to supplement examples of previous work, and recommendation letters. Given that English proficiency is necessary to succeed in all academic or personal fields, policies should be especially amenable and student-specific. Academic courses meant to serve students that only share a grade level cannot serve those students appropriately.