Saturday, March 28, 2009

Constructing the Ethical Self in Civil Society

Story Comments
Chithra Karunakaran wrote on Mar 28, 2009 2:32 PM:

" Lori Phanachone is one courageous education reformer. We could use her as Education Secretary.

I'm wondering if she had to change her Laotian name to something 'easy' that her monolingual, language-deprived white American teachers could pronounce. I was once asked by a Black school superintendent who was trying to get a date with me, if he could "call me Chichi or something simple like that." Yeah right.

As an immigrant woman of color who for 11 years has taught crosscultural psychology courses to diverse students at a public univ. in New York, the ELDA makes no sense in Lori's case. She could have easily been allowed to sign a waiver because of her scholarly accomplishments and her GPA.

However, common sense and fair assessments are in short supply in the profitmaking testing industry and in the education bureaucracy.

Lori, Don't let anyone tell you who you are and what you can be. That assistant principal is a cynical bigoted bureaucrat who should be dismissed for his double whammy racist putdown of Rosa Parks and you!
(You can Google my Theory of Systemic Whiteness). "

Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice
Souix City Journal copyrighted article below:
Student rejects 'demeaning' test, is suspended
High achiever faces possible expulsion
By Russ Oechslin, Journal correspondent | Posted: Thursday, March 05, 2009
STORM LAKE, Iowa -- Lori Phanachone is a member of the National Honor Society, has a 3.9 grade point average and ranks seventh in the senior class of about 119 at Storm Lake High School.

But school officials have told her she is considered to be illiterate based on her refusal to satisfactorily complete the English Language Development Assessment, a test she says is demeaning and racist.

On Wednesday, Phanachone finished serving three days of in-school suspension for what school administrators say is insubordination. She faces another three days for continuing her silent protest with a second refusal to take the test. According to a written statement presented to her Wednesday, Phanachone said, she could be suspended again and then expelled for a fourth refusal.

"Mr. Ruleaux (assistant principal Beau Ruleaux) told me I was 'no Rosa Parks' -- that I should give up because I would not succeed in my protest," Phanachone said.

Senior Kristi Davis is one of several students who believe Phanachone is being treated unfairly and that her punishment is too harsh.

Davis called Phanachone "a really smart, very talented person. She has a passion for everything she does."

"Lori has never gotten into trouble or done anything bad," Davis said. "She's always been successful at anything she has done. But she sees this test as incredibly racist.

"Many minority kids don't want to take it. But Lori is the first to actually do something about it."

Scholarships threatened

The school district's curriculum coordinator, Lori Porsche, said taking the test is mandatory because Phanachone indicated on her school registration that English was not the first language spoken in her home. Her parents are Laotian and still speak little English.

Phanachone, who was born in California and lived in upstate New York before moving to Storm Lake with her family in 2006, said she has never been enrolled in any English Language Learning or English as a Second Language program.

"Someone told me I should have put English as my first language when I registered for school," Phanachone said. "But I refused. I will not deny who I am. And I will not disrespect my culture or my mother."

Until she was ordered to serve in-school suspension last week, Phanachone said, she had A's in speech, accounting, chemistry and English composition. Her poorest grade, a B-plus, was in pre-calculus. But she said she fears what might happen to her grades as a result of her suspensions and time out of the classroom.

Porsche declined to discuss Phanachone's academic record but did not dispute her achievement claims, which fellow students confirmed.

Phanachone said school administrators have told her her college scholarships -- $86,000 at Buena Vista University and more at Iowa State University, if that is her choice -- would disappear. "That's a lot of money. I worked for that. Nothing has been handed to me. I earned it."

"But I want to fight this because this is what I believe," she added. "It's wrong, not just for me but for all minority students. The test is demeaning."

Disagreement over test

Phanachone took the English Language Development Assessment test as a sophomore and admits she probably did poorly on the junior-year retake to check her progress because she marked the same answer for each of the multiple-choice questions in protest. "I filled in all C's because I wanted them to look at something beyond the test."

When she turned in the exam several hours ahead of the other students last year, she was forced to wait in solitary confinement for more than three hours before being excused.

The 155-question test takes four hours to complete.

"I waited all the next week to see if they were going to punish me, and they didn't. I don't think they knew what to do with me because they never had anyone refuse to take the test," she said.

However, she was told to take the test again this year. Porsche said the test is given without regard to a student's GPA or class rank.

"We have chosen to say that if you do not have a proficient score on this test that we need to reassess to make sure you are proficient in English," Porsche said.

Administrators in other Iowa school districts, and in the area education agencies that provide the tests, disagree over whether the test is mandatory as Porsche maintains.

Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency-8 Title III consultant Kathy Brenny, who has an office in Storm Lake, explained that students are identified as English language learners or English as a Second Language students when they enroll. But she said, "If they are proficient, then we don't have to give the test."

Tom Green of the Northwest Area Education Agency in Sioux City said there is federal policy in place to determine who takes the test. Phanachone's case "is an interesting question," he said and suggested, "A kid with a 3.9 GPA shouldn't be in an (English language learners) program."

In Davenport, where 300 to 400 of the public school system's 15,000 students are enrolled in English as a Second Language programs, Dawn Anderson-Rascher, director of assessment equity and record services, said that based on what she understood of the situation, Phanachone wouldn't meet the criteria for taking the test.

Support from classmates

Katie Shevel, who said she has a 4.0 grade point average, said the school would have been justified in imposing "maybe a detention or Saturday school. But to take away everything that she's ever worked for, when this test isn't in the high school curriculum -- to be threatening her with not being able to graduate -- it seems like too much."

"I think it is ridiculous for the administration to punish her the way they have," added Stephanie Emery, who shares classes with Phanachone.

"She has every right to protest taking the test, because in Storm Lake race isn't an issue. And that test singles out race. ... The only reason she didn't write English down as her first language was that she is proud of her heritage."

At this point, Phanachone said she is confused and stressed.

Because the Storm Lake Board of Education has called a special meeting on another matter for 7:30 a.m. today, Phanachone said she expects to be there, with legal representation, just in case her situation is brought up.

Some students plan to support her by staging a daylong protest outside the school Friday. But several of Phanachone's friends have tried to downplay the idea because Phanachone wants her protest to be more restrained.

"We want to be very mature about this," Davis said.

At a glance
The issue: Lori Phanachone, an honor student at Storm Lake High School, has had to serve in-school suspension and been threatened with expulsion and loss of college scholarships for refusing to take an English proficiency test.
What's happened so far: Phanachone has served three days of in-school suspension and is beginning a second round.
What's next: Phanachone and an attorney plan to appear at a school board meeting this morning in case her situation comes up. Some students want to stage an all-day protest Friday, but Phanachone and her friends want to make a more restrained statement.

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