Photo by Onderwijsgek
Photo by Onderwijsgek

A study by the Pew Research Center found that about 430,000 Asians, or 36 percent of all immigrants, moved to the United States in 2010 becoming the fastest-growing racial group in America. There are currently more than 17.3 million Asian Americans living in the United States, according to tolerance.org, and it is estimated that the population will reach 41 million by 2050.

With the Asian American population growing, there needs to be a way toward a more supportive educational system for our students.

Standardized tests create barriers for newly arrived Asian immigrant parents in helping their children succeed in school and move on to higher education. Standardized tests also put pressure on their children who often speak English as a second language and do not have access to the same kind of support as other children.

Jamie Liu, 13, a first-generation Asian American from San Francisco said she felt frustrated with standardized tests to the point where she wanted to give up.

“No one could understand me [or] my parents,” Liu said. Since her parents do not understand English, they are not able to help her with with her studies. Liu said she spends a lot of extra time preparing for the tests and barely passes.

According to Mi Le, a 2008 Issaquah High school graduate originally from Vietnam, there was a lack of school programs supporting English Language Learner (ELL) students to succeed in standardized test taking. She said it would have been helpful if there were programs that could help her learn better. She also said it would be beneficial if there were teachers or tutors available who have gone through similar situations so that they could understand her difficulties.

Susan Wallace, ELL program coordinator at Olympic Hills Elementary, said that newly arrived Asian immigrant parents need better access to information about our government’s policy on education at the national, state, and local level in order to effectively participate and provide their informed opinions.

While there are efforts to make our schools less reliant on standardized tests in the future, these are the obstacles our children are currently facing. But there are things that newly arrived Asian immigrant parents can do to help their children navigate our present system.

Wallace said that parents should keep their children active in their first language at home, and ask them about what they are learning at school so that their children can develop the thinking skills they need in their first language. Once they learn English, they can transfer this thinking skill into the classroom. Wallace said parents should maintain a stable relationship with their children because communication is critical to successful education.

Natasha Merchant, education professor at the University of Washington Bothell, said that it’s essential for parents to create an environment at home that makes it easier for children to study. Parents should be aware of their children’s behavior and needs in order to keep their stress to a minimum. Merchant said children have to be strong and emotionally balanced; and knowing where they can go for de-stressing. Therefore, building a sense of belonging in their community for them to feel loved and supported is crucial.

For parents who do not speak English as a first language, there are still many ways to support their children. Having a sense of belonging and rootedness is incredibly beneficial for student identity development, Merchant said. Parents have a lot of knowledge to offer that will likely not be addressed in the classroom. Parents should enrich their child’s knowledge by connecting their own experiences with what students are learning in the classroom.

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