Left behind by 'reformer'
New York Daily News
Sept. 27, 2006

by Juan Gonzalez. Columnist


Alina Guerrero, a fourth-grader at the Amistad Dual Language School in northern Manhattan is among tens of thousands of immigrant children around the country who have been turned into political pawns as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind law.


This summer, Department of Education officials in Washington ordered all public schools to give immigrant children who have lived in the U.S. as little as a year the same standardized English Language Arts assessment tests as native-born pupils.


Some 25,000 to 50,000 immigrant children will be affected by the new policy in New York State alone - most of them right here in the city.


"I know of no researcher or assessment expert who says this makes any sense," said Luis Reyes, a former member of the city's old Board of Education. Reyes and other education experts predict a sharp drop in reading scores this year for those schools with large immigrant populations.


Many of those schools "will very soon be in the failing, corrective action status under No Child Left Behind" and could lose federal funding, said James Crawford, director of the nonprofit Institute for Language and Education Policy in Maryland.


That's because until now, immigrant children who were in the country less than three years were exempted by federal law from standardized reading tests. Those pupils in New York and other states were allowed to take a separate English-as-second-language proficiency test.


Those exemptions now end this winter. Parents and educators learned of the new policy only this month, when school opened. Many were furious - especially because these tests are among the criteria used to decide if a child can advance to a higher grade.


"It's unjust," said Sagrario German, Alina's mother. "My daughter is very smart but she's been in this country less than three years and she's still having problems with English. Now her teacher is telling me I need to get her a private tutor so she can pass this test."


Top city and state education officials sought for months to dissuade the Bush administration from implementing the tough new policy. A final meeting in Washington at the end of last month produced no compromise.


"We were very vocal at that meeting about the time line," said Pedro Ruiz, director of the state's office of bilingual education and foreign language. "All research indicates that it takes a lot longer for kids to learn a language - at least three to four years."


According to Ruiz, Reyes and other educators, the White House endured enormous political pressure to end the immigrant exemptions from major national Hispanic organizations like National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.


As long as recently arrived Hispanic and other immigrant children are exempt from standardized tests, the national Latino groups argued, those tests will not accurately reflect a school's progress. Inaccurate scores will mean less pressure on school boards to improve the performance of those pupils most in need of help.


Reyes and Crawford and many veteran teachers, however, believe the national Latino leaders are acting more like politicians than educators.


"The punitive approach is not how you improve schools," Reyes said, contending it doesn't matter whether the approach comes from the Bush administration or from national Latino leaders.


But who is listening to teachers and parents these days? Every politician in America claims to know how to fix the problems of our school system. For most of them, the solution begins and ends with standardized tests - especially English tests.


So kids like Alina Guerrero, an otherwise intelligent 9-year-old who simply hasn't had enough time to master English as well as her native-born classmates, will find herself suddenly dubbed underperforming - or maybe even failing - thanks to No Child Left Behind. And all of this the politicians call educational reform.