Our biggest challenge here is helping students become readers and writers when they do not read or write in their first language. They have very little support at home and don't see reading and writing modeled as their parents are not fluent in English. Yet, beginning in 3rd grade, they are expected to read and show proficiency on mandated state tests.
Has anyone had similar concerns? How do you address them?
I do have concerns about our testing-mania, especially with regard to early primary children and ELLs. Your cogent comment/diagnosis re: lack of literacy in L1 is the first step toward helping these students. These students certainly can be taught phonemic awareness. There is no reason to wait until, and if, it is "caught." I have a nice set of simple whole class phonemic awareness assessments that I think will benefit your kids and help you fill their literacy gaps. Find these free diagnostic assessments at http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/Phonemic%20Awareness%20...
This is a problem at the high school level as well. Students come with major gaps in their L1 educational backgrounds. Typically their parents take them out of school once they have finished upper elementary or middle school because they can't afford to buy the uniforms. So they arrive in my class as 9th, 10th, or 11th graders based on AGE alone. Presently I have 3 kids who only have 3 years of formal education and they are 16 years old. With such deficiencies, they still have to take the various state mandated assessments which they do very poorly on. Of course the prospects of graduating from an American high school are slim especially since the money for Newcomer centers has dried up. There is not time to adjust or catch up in credits. My heart goes out to them.