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
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
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
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