More Students in New York Will Take Regular English Test
New York Times
August 5, 2006


Ordered by the federal government to improve its testing of students who speak limited English, New York State said yesterday that all children enrolled in school in the United States for at least a year would be required to take the state’s regular English Language Arts exam. The test is given annually in the third through eighth grades.

State officials said the decision would require about 90,000 children who speak limited English to take the regular exam in January. Students will continue to take the state’s math, social studies and science tests in a variety of foreign languages, officials said.

They also said they could not predict how many schools might fail to make yearly progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Law if many students score poorly on the English test.

Schools that fail to make adequate progress can be branded as needing improvement and sanctioned.

Previously, students who had been in an American school for fewer than three years were exempt from the regular test. Instead, they were given the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test, which was developed to determine whether a child should receive special services as a limited English speaker.

New York had also used that test, known as the Nyseslat, to comply with the No Child Left Behind Law, which requires that schools demonstrate adequate yearly progress for their general student population and for subgroups of students, including racial minorities, special education students and limited English speakers.

But a federal review this year found that New York’s testing system failed to comply with the law. In June, the federal Education Department wrote to New York, saying the Nyseslat “is not sufficiently comparable to the regular English language arts assessment” test.

New York, Virginia and Colorado ran afoul of the federal law by using a substitute English proficiency test instead of a so-called “content” test, which measures student ability against uniform standards for performance at each grade level.

New York was told to correct the problem within a year or risk losing $1.2 million a year in federal education aid. Last month, New York officials convened a panel on bilingual education to discuss possible alternatives, including the development of an entirely new test, which would have cost millions of dollars.

In a memo yesterday to superintendents statewide, the deputy education commissioner, Jean C. Stevens, said the state will continue to consider “alternative ways of assessing” students with limited English skills. The federal government has begun an effort to help states develop such assessments.

Ms. Stevens said students forced to take the regular test would be given special accommodations, including extra time, separate testing locations, a third reading by proctors of selections to test listening comprehension (they are normally read only twice), and the use of bilingual dictionaries or glossaries.

Officials in New York City said they had no choice but to comply. “We understand that this is a matter of law,” said David Cantor, a spokesman for Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

But some experts on the federal law and bilingual education said the state should have fought the federal requirements or, alternatively, developed a new test specifically designed for non-English speakers.

Christine Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University, called the federal law “completely unrealistic” and “illogical” when applied to students with limited English skills.

Dr. Rossell said students should be tested upon entering school, but the results not used for compliance with the federal law until a child has been in an American school for five years.