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Emma Sorensen

1313 30 St. Apt. 2 Des Moines, IA 50311 Phone: 952-693-1124 E-Mail: emma.sorensen13@gmail.com
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Date: Sunday, February 19, 2012 The Honorable Charles E. Grassley United States Senator United States Senate 135 Senate Hart Building Washington, DC 20510 Dear Senator Grassley: My name is Emma Sorensen and I am studying at Drake University. I am majoring in Elementary Education with endorsements in reading, ELL (English language learning), and unified. I am writing to you today with concerns I have in regard to our ELL population in Iowa and how their needs are being met. I am currently student teaching in Des Moines at a public school in an urban area. The classroom that I am teaching in has 5 identified ELL students, most of whom have been in the United States for less than two years. I bring up their time in the United States for a specific reason. When a person learns a language, they learn the social vocabulary first. These are the words that get you through the day and help you converse with those around you. The learning of academic vocabulary comes later. In a study done by Thomas & Collier (1997), they discovered the students in 3rd through 5th grade, who had at least 2 3 years of schooling in their native language, needed 5 7 years of school in the United States to be at grade level in English. Additionally, students who arrived in the United States with little to no formal schooling in their native language took 7 10 years to reach grade level proficiency. Finally, those students who arrive in the United States below grade level in their native language only reached the 50th percentile after 7 10 years. My concern with the ELL population of Iowa is this: If it takes an ELL students with schooling in their native language 5 7 years to reach grade level proficiency in English, why are we testing them as if they are on grade level? These students are by no means unintelligent; they just do not know the language that schools require them to use. We are subjecting students who are already overcoming other concerns in relation to their immigration to the United States to more stress by testing them with the Iowa Assessment. These students have to do more thinking to answer a question than a native English speaker, so why are we making their learning harder by testing them every year like their English speaking counter parts. Legislation for school accountability has made it very hard for schools with high populations of ELL students to be considered proficient in any subject area. For a math question, the student has to read the question, translate it in their head, figure out what the question is asking for, solve it, translate it back into English, and then put it down on the exam. This causes schools to be considered In Need Of Assisstance and it makes the ELL students feel unintelligent because they did not score well. I ask of you to review legislation passed in Iowa in relation to ELL students. I also would like you to spend some time in classrooms around Iowa. I think that if you can see what happens in a classroom on a daily basis that you will begin to understand just how much ELL students have to do, how little time they have to do it in, and how much pressure they are put under just because they do not speak English.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I hope that you found it informational and thought provoking. Please continue to do research to expand your knowledge on the education of students in Iowa. Sincerely,

Emma Sorensen