Everyone deserves a second chance; unless, apparently, you’re a Pitt-Johnstown international student.
According to the Pitt-Johnstown website, which was updated in late January, all incoming international students who were not exempted from the Test of English as a Foreign Language are required to take an English placement exam during their orientation.
However, students who were placed into English as a Second Language workshops or composition classes were not allowed to take the exam again to qualify for a regular—not a second language—composition class.
A sophomore student, who asked to be anonymous for fear of repercussions, said he was five points from qualifying to take a regular composition class.
“I passed the oral exam, and I got a 75 on my grammar exam, which was only five points from allowing me to take a regular composition class, instead of going through the English as a Second Language course series.
“Because I was only five points away, it was a shame (that I had to be placed in a second language course.) I am quite confident in my English level; my English has always been the top in my class when I was growing up.
“So I asked (second language coordinator Kim Douglas) for a second chance to re-evaluate my English level, but she rejected me.
“I was very disappointed, but I didn’t know who else to seek. So I just stuck with the courses. The content of the classes was very basic, (but) I personally didn’t think it helped me at all.
“By the end of my workshop class, I was more familiar with the American college life, and I wanted to communicate more with American students to improve my English skills.
“So I asked Professor Douglas again to reevaluate my English level so I could take a regular Composition I class. The answer was still no. She told me that once I was on the English as Second Language track, I had to stick through it.
“I wasn’t convinced, so I went ahead and registered for a regular Composition I class myself, as many other international students have done.
“But she found out and contacted the registrar’s office, dropped my regular Composition I class (from my schedule), and added her English as a Second Language Composition I. She even dropped my class that was scheduled for that time period. It was all done without informing me.
“I was furious, so I went to talk to her, but she responded in a tough attitude that it was not negotiable,” the student said.
Douglas said that it is a university protocol that, once a student is placed on the English as a Second Language track, they have to stay on that track.
“In my years of teaching here, I never had any but one student ask me to retake the placement exam, and he was then placed in a regular composition class.”
“The university set it up this way to keep (international students’) GPA (high enough to avoid academic probation issues),” she said.
Before the website was updated, Douglas said that students who are identified as international students, and whose first language isn’t English, are required to take the English placement exam.
However, there are some international students who are not from countries exempted from the Test of English as a Foreign Language and who did not take the English placement exam.
Ana Gonzalez, of Mexico, said she went to high school in the United States but did not take the English placement exam. Instead, she was placed directly in a regular Composition I class.
However, Gonzalez said she chose to take English as a Second Language Composition II.
“I have a lot of trouble with grammar and sentence structures because it’s different than Spanish.
“Composition I was good, but, in Composition II the teacher just expects you to know how to write, whereas in English as a Second Language Composition II, (Douglas) goes over writing style, and provides more examples on how to write,” she said.
“I think the English as a Second Language Composition II is very helpful; it helped me understand better on how to compose an essay with better structure,” Gonzalez said.
Besides Gonzalez, all other students in the English as a Second Language Composition II class are Chinese students.
“It was interesting and cool to be around another culture, and I (found out) more about their traditions,” she said.
Assistant Academic Affairs Vice President Steven Kilpatrick said that some international students who went to high school in the United States might not have been identified as international students, and were placed in regular composition classes without taking the English placement exam.
However, some students who went to high school in the U.S. were still required to take a placement exam.
Sophomore Li Jiaxuan has been in the United States for seven years now, yet she was still required to take the English placement exam, and she was placed in English as a Second Language workshop.
Although she said she didn’t want to take English as a Second Language composition classes, she was told that she was required to.
“(Douglas) made it sound like it was required for us to take it.”
Humanities Division Chairman Michael Stoneham said that it is a university protocol that students who were on the English as a Second Language track have to stay on the track. He referred to Registrar Lisa Hunter and the Admissions office staff for official documents.
However, staff at neither office said they knew about an English as a Second Language protocol.
Douglas said that international students are asked to take the English placement exam based on their Test for English as a Foreign Language and SAT reading section scores.
“Those in the (English as a Second Language) class have a (Test for English as a Foreign Language) score too low to be placed in a regular composition class,” she said.
One student said he got a high score on his test for English as a Foreign Language, yet he was still required to take the placement exam, and he was eventually placed in an English as a Second Language workshop.
“I wanted to take a regular composition class, but she told us we are required to take an English as a Second Language Composition I, and she gave us the course number.
“The workshop was a waste of time for me,” he said. “(But) I was afraid of saying I wanted to be take a regular Composition I (because she already told us we have to take her class.)”
Academic Affairs Vice President Janet Grady said that the way English as a Second Language was set up is the best way for international students, in most cases.
“Years ago, we started having more international students on our campus, and they were all placed in regular composition classes because we didn’t have English as a Second Language courses.
“We tracked the numbers, and we realized that many international students were having troubles.
“Then we realized that placing these students in regular composition classes was putting them at a disadvantage because we haven’t got the resources to keep their language skills up,” Grady said.
After English as a Second Language courses were opened, Grady said that they hardly have any international students on probation.
“We’ve provided a better environment for students to succeed,” Grady said, adding that she values case-by-case approaches.
She said faculty members would be unlikely to change a course selection without discussing it with the student.
“They usually have a conversation with the student first. We want the students to be in control; they’re adults.
“I think the English as a Second Language courses are a big factor in helping our international students to achieve their highest level,” Grady said. “We know everybody is capable, especially our international students; we just want to make sure that happens.
A student said that he hoped they at least have the chance to take the English placement exam again, and have more options to choose from.
“Even though we might not be that good in our English level, we should still be given the option to challenge ourselves. It is ultimately our responsibility.”