At a press conference today at Pace University’’s Pleasantville campus, County Board Chair Bill Ryan and County Executive Andy Spano kicked off the 40-day countdown to the start of the 2007 Empire State Games which begin on July 25. This is the first time in the event’’s 30-year history that Westchester County is hosting the Games. More than 6,000 athletes and 15,000 spectators are expected to descend on the countyfor the 5-day competition.

Westchester County Legislator George Oros (R, C, IN/Cortlandt) stressed the need for bi-partisan cooperation on all levels of government to significantly reduce wasteful spending during a recent guest appearance on state Assemblywoman Sandra Galef’s cable television program.

Area Educators And Administrators Concur That No Child Left Behind Policy Is Failing LEP Students

County Legislator José I. Alvarado (D – Yonkers), following up on his effort to reform the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy regarding testing Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, invited leaders from Westchester’s urban school districts to present their concerns to the Board’s Generational, Cultural, and Ethnic Diversity Committee (GCED) at their May 8th meeting.

Among those participating in the meeting’s discussion were Dr. Paul Fried, Superintendent of the Mamaroneck Union Free Schools; Dr. Richard Organisciak, Superintendent and Estee Lopez, ELL director of New Rochelle City Schools;
 
Gertrude Karabus, ELA Standards Administrator and Ivette Matias, Foreign Language Administrator of Mt. Vernon City Schools; Angela Pagano, Director of Title 1/ESL services for the Yonkers Public Schools; and, Joan Kass, Foreign Language Department Administrator at White Plains High School. 

Each speaker agreed that the NCLB testing policy for LEP students is unfair and irrational and based on a false premise --- that after just one year of English-language instruction, a non-English speaking child was ready to take the same English Language Assessment test as kids who were born here and grew up speaking English.

Many of the speakers stressed that the purpose of any accountability system is to provide feedback on a child’s progress and the effectiveness of the teaching methods being used. But, the consensus was that the ELA test policy for LEP students was a futile exercise. In fact, instead of improving a child’s mastery, the NCLB LEP testing policy was having the opposite effect. It was forcing teachers to divert valuable teaching time to preparing students for the test and it was discouraging to hard-working students doomed to fail a test written for native speakers.

“This meeting confirmed the harmful effects of an insensitive accountability system,” said Alvarado. “From my point of view, as someone who came to America not knowing the English language, it is easy to see how forcing children to take academic tests in a language that they do not yet understand is both unreasonable and embarrassing.”

Alvarado said that school districts were caught between ‘a rock and a hard place.’

“If they do what’s in the best interests of the student, the school district loses critically needed federal funding because it’s not in compliance with NCLB,” said Alvarado. “On the other hand, if the school district complies with NCLB, as the state and the federal government have mandated, then the child loses.”

“Immigrant children have enough obstacles to climb without adding another one, especially one that serves a political, rather than a solid educational purpose,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado’s resolution is currently being refined with input from of the meeting’s attendees and is expected to be signed out by the GCED Committee next Tuesday. The resolution is calling on Congress to either not reauthorize the current version of NCLB or amend it to be more permissive of states’ and schools’ decision making with regard to testing LEP students. The resolution also calls for the state Board of Regents to adopt an equitable accountability system, one in which children are not given a “one-size-fits-all” series of exams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Ryan, Board Chairman and Legislator from White Plains, visited the Mamaroneck Avenue School 3rd graders to promote recycling and award Recycling Rangers badges. The Recycling Ranger program was initiated by Legislator Ryan four years ago and the Mamaroneck Avenue School in White Plains has participated all four years.

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.”