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Don’t Forget Our Immigrant Youth

For centuries, New York has welcomed young newcomers at the start of a road to a better future. But we are now in danger of leaving them behind.

We are facing nothing less than a critical turning point for immigrant students. The test scores for students learning English – “English language learners” (ELLs) that New York State released this past Wednesday for this past year’s English Language Arts and Mathematics tests for 3rd to 8th graders are shocking. While results for all students declined substantially this year due to the new “Common Core” assessments, a staggeringly low 3% of English language learners statewide passed the English test, and only one of every 10 English language learners (10%) passed the Math tests. 

These shocking results show what we already knew to be true – that despite their vast potential and unique language skills, English language learners are being left far behind by our education system. There is a 40% graduation gap between native English speakers and ELL students, as ELL graduation rates have now declined to the point that only 1 of every 3 ELL students now graduate in four years. These test scores are not just a new “baseline” as more rigorous standards are put into place - rather, they are a late warning sign and urgent call to action.

The State and City must act immediately to ensure that “equality for all students” isn’t just a hollow promise. While higher standards are critical to ensuring student achievement, students must be given adequate time to receive supports and services in order to meet standards – particularly if English isn’t their first language. ELL Students will also have greater success in meeting the higher bar if instruction values their native language skills – these are golden assets in today’s multi-lingual, global community, not barriers. Schools also should use assessments capable of accurately reflecting students’ ability, not just “one-size-fits-all” high stakes standardized tests that leave behind bright students who are already navigating the complex currents of demanding content and a new language. The State and City also must allocate more resources and funding for the benefit of ELL students, and they should develop short and long-term plans to prevent ELLs, their teachers and their families from being punished for these test results in today’s high-pressure scholastic environment.

There are nearly a quarter-million ELL students in the State’s public school system. As immigrants continue to flock to New York’s shores, these bright, committed young people are our future – they have the ability to excel just as much as their English-proficient peers. We must not leave them stranded on the side of the road to success and a brighter future.

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