Asking for a Special Exam
From El Diario
June 17, 2004

By Claudia Zequeira

Immigrant lobbyists met yesterday to criticize the English language regent recently arrived students must take in order to graduate from High School. They asked the Department of Education to create an alternative test designed specifically for students in the process of learning the language.

At the City Hall press conference, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and various students who will have to take the Regents exam in English, described the exam as unjust and designed to punish those who fail the test, creating a "crisis of scholarly desertion."

The problem, they said, is due in part to the fact that the Regents exam demands knowledge of language and literature that is relatively too sophisticated for the immigrant students, or English Language Learners (ELLs). According to them, the English classes that the recently arrived students attend concentrate on basic facets of English, like spelling and grammar.

"The governor, the mayor, and the bureaucrats are telling the children, “ready or not, you have to take this exam. The majority of the ELLs are not ready," said Margie McHughe, director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
Since 1995, educational reforms at the state level have forced students of High schools to pass 5 Regents exams in order to graduate. Though the students can take these tests in their native languages, the English exam continues to be a requirement.

This, according to those who oppose the exam, is a roadblock for the immigrant students who want to improve themselves.

"The Regent exam [in English] forces the students to do work, write, and analyze texts that they have studied for 13 years. A recent immigrant must immediately prepare for an exam that others have been preparing for 13 years," said Professor Luis Reyes of Hunter College.

McHughe and the group indicated that in the year 2000, half of the immigrant population graduated from secondary school in less than 7 years in part because of the break in the standards. The New York Immigration Coalition has published reports in which it is demonstrated that the English Language Learners are "pushed" out of regular schools when the teachers and directors, who do not want to spoil the statistics of their school, realize that those students have low chances of passing the Regent exam.

The city Department of Education is currently referring calls to the state Department of Education. The spokesperson for the state department, Jonathan Burman said that the English exam will continue to be a state requirement. He also said "it is important that the immigrant students learn English before graduating because they are going to need those skills after secondary school."

In the year 2002, according to the Coalition, of the 63,460 students who took the Regent exams, 8,361 were categorized as English language Learners or students in the process of learning the language. Another 16,905 were categorized as "ex ELLs".

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Translated from Spanish by Charlotte Triggs.

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