Says Federal No Child Left Behind Policy Fails Kids Who Don't Learn English Fast Enough

Westchester County Legislator José I. Alvarado (D – Yonkers) is going to bat for immigrant students getting shortchanged by the very policy that is supposed to be strengthening their educational experience. He has asked the area’s major elected officials--- Senators Clinton and Schumer, Governor Spitzer, and Representatives Engel and Lowey--- to revise the No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) testing policy for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Students.

In addition to the plea to elected officials to intervene, Alvarado will ask the Board’s Committee on Generational, Cultural, & Ethnic Diversity to pass a resolution that calls upon the New York State Department of Education to repeal its newly adopted testing policy for LEP students. In recent weeks, he has also reached out to superintendents from local school districts to shed further light on this pressing issue.

“The No Child Left Behind policy is actually leaving lots of children behind,” said Alvarado. “In fact, it’s leaving kids who don’t learn English fast enough in the dust. The federal government decreed that non-English speaking kids should be able to master the English language in a year, at which point they take the same English language arts assessment test as everyone else. After just one year of being exposed to English, these kids are scored on the same scale as native English speakers. When they fail, which is almost inevitable, schools lose funding. Clearly, it’s the one size fits all policy that’s a failure, not the schools and certainly not the students.”

Alvarado said that when he moved to Yonkers from his native Honduras in 1982, he knew very little English. “I can attest that mastering English is a significant challenge for most,” said Alvarado. “Believe me, every immigrant child coming to this country is motivated to learn English but the rate of learning any new language varies from person to person. The policy should reflect that.”

The NCLB Act, originally passed in January 2002, set rigid accountability standards for all of the nation’s schools. The amount of federal funding a school gets is tied to a school’s
performance, as measured by students’ scores on standardized tests, like NYS’s Language Arts Assessment test.

Despite widespread concern that NCLB standards as applied to non English speakers are unrealistic, State education departments have had to make the choice to either comply with federal standards or lose federal funding. Recently, New York State altered its testing policy to meet NCLB standards. The change means that the state’s 60,000 Limited English Proficient (LEP) students must take the Language Arts test after just a year of studying English in school.

Those states that choose not to adhere to new testing requirements face a loss in federal funds in the coming year. The U.S. Department of Education has already threatened sanctions on Virginia for refusing to administer tests written in English to children who cannot read, write, or understand the English language.

“NCLB is now being considered for reauthorization so the time for assessing the assessment tools being used is now,” said Alvarado. “High expectations are good and important but unreasonable expectations can have the opposite effect and can be demoralizing when expectations aren’t met. By making the testing more realistic, we’re not asking for a free pass, just a fair chance and more level playing field for immigrant children. The system has set LEP students on a path to fail rather than succeed. And, for a nation built on the backs of centuries of immigrants, that’s a disgrace.”