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The politics of educational inequity toward students with limited English proficiency in the age of high stakes testing accountability: A descriptive ethnographic study of Haitian youth in Boston public schools

Jean G Blaise, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Abstract

The purpose of this research study was to examine underlying issues related to poor performance by Haitian students in Boston Public Schools on standardized testing mandated under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Performance on these tests determines students’ eligibility to graduate high school and receive their diploma. A descriptive ethnographic approach was used in the study, focusing on students in one high school in the Greater Boston area. This approach is considered appropriate for qualitative research in the context of “cross-cultural comparison,” and it was useful in this case because of the depth of investigation and analysis it allows, especially when studying the culture of a particular ethnic group. In this study, it helped to reveal the attitudes of Haitian youth toward high-stakes testing in the United States.^ The study was designed to explore Haitian students’ attitudes toward the MCAS testing process and its potential effects on their future academic and career success. In order to investigate and analyze these perspectives, a sample group of 13 students was interviewed over a period of 10 weeks. All of the students were Haitian, and many of them had only been in the US for approximately one year. Most of the students were in the 10th grade, which is the scholastic level at which all students are required to take the MCAS tests under Massachusetts law.^ Based on the oral interviews collected, it was clear that the majority of the students in the study group believed they had difficulty passing the MCAS tests due to their limited English proficiency and their lack of cultural understanding in the new environment. They clearly expressed their fears that the testing process would negatively affect their academic standing in school, and indeed their career prospects in the long term.^ Key findings from the study suggest that Haitian youth studying in the US are motivated to realize their academic potential, but that factors such as limited English proficiency, lack of literacy and numeracy in their native language, and cultural discontinuity may prevent them from passing mandated standardized tests and achieving their academic goals.^

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Education policy

Recommended Citation

Blaise, Jean G, "The politics of educational inequity toward students with limited English proficiency in the age of high stakes testing accountability: A descriptive ethnographic study of Haitian youth in Boston public schools" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3588993.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI3588993

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