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Critics Say Regents English Tests Push Immigrants to Drop Out

By Jennifer Medina
New York Times
June 23, 2002

Regents tests that were meant to encourage high statewide standards are so frustrating to students who are not fluent in English that a third of them are dropping out of high school, according to two groups that advocate for immigrant children.

Leaders of the groups - the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children - said in a joint report that it was unfair to expect students who had recently learned English to pass the same tests as students who have been in American schools since kindergarten.

The leaders said that more resources should be devoted to students who are learning English and that exams should be especially tailored for them. These students make up about 14 percent of the high school population of 280,000, and their numbers are expected to increase with continued immigration.

More than 31 percent of the students classified as English language learners who were supposed to graduate in June 2001 dropped out along the way. The dropout rate has increased sharply since the Regents requirement was enacted in 1999. Of those English learners who were supposed to graduate in 1998, about 17 percent dropped out, according to the Board of Education.

"There are students who have colleges waiting for them, but they can't get out of high school because they cannot pass the English Regents," said Margie McHugh, executive director of the Immigration Coalition.

The Manhattan Comprehensive principal, Howard A. Friedman, said that at least half of the students at the school could pass all the tests except English. "If a student is coming in at 18 or 19, even with excellent instruction they will not be able to do as well as a student who has been in English classes their entire lives," Mr. Friedman said.

The Regents English requirement was first put into effect for the class of 2000, with math added for the class of 2001. For this year's class, United States history and global studies were also required. By 2005, all high school students must pass those tests and one in science.

In the report, which was released last week, the groups called for increased incentives to ease a shortage of 3,600 certified bilingual teachers in the next three years, and for more extended day and Saturday programs for students learning English.

Another cause of frustration for immigrant students, several students and parents said, is that they were turned away by officials at some schools who told them they were too old.

Dr. Edna Vega, superintendent of the Office of English Language Learners, said students who wished to finish high school were never turned away. But she added that a student who is over 17 and has had a break in formal education is referred to schools that specialize in older students, like Manhattan Comprehensive.

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