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Failing Our Students

Beginning this week, New York City's fourth graders will take the state's standardized tests in reading and writing. Many people are looking forward to a repeat of last year when the city celebrated a nearly 10 percent increase in fourth-grade reading scores. But not everyone is sharing in the anticipation.
Beginning this week, New York City's fourth graders will take the state's standardized tests in reading and writing. Many people are looking forward to a repeat of last year when the city celebrated a nearly 10 percent increase in fourth-grade reading scores. But not everyone is sharing in the anticipation.

New York City schools base their decision on whether to promote students entirely on results from the state achievement exams. But these tests, which are written for native English speakers, discriminate against those who are still learning the language. Also, doing well isn't simply a matter of knowing English. Standardized tests measure children's knowledge of "cognitive academic language," or the language of a highly literate population.

Researchers and the courts have repeatedly found that exclusively using any single assessment tool to determine the promotion or graduation of bilingual students is discriminatory.

Evangeline Harris Stefanakis is an associate research scholar and faculty member in International and Transcultural Studies at Columbia's Teachers College.

This Op-ed appeared in the January 8, 2006 edition of the New York Times.

Published Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006

Failing Our Students

Beginning this week, New York City's fourth graders will take the state's standardized tests in reading and writing. Many people are looking forward to a repeat of last year when the city celebrated a nearly 10 percent increase in fourth-grade reading scores. But not everyone is sharing in the anticipation.

New York City schools base their decision on whether to promote students entirely on results from the state achievement exams. But these tests, which are written for native English speakers, discriminate against those who are still learning the language. Also, doing well isn't simply a matter of knowing English. Standardized tests measure children's knowledge of "cognitive academic language," or the language of a highly literate population.

Researchers and the courts have repeatedly found that exclusively using any single assessment tool to determine the promotion or graduation of bilingual students is discriminatory.

Evangeline Harris Stefanakis is an associate research scholar and faculty member in International and Transcultural Studies at Columbia's Teachers College.

This Op-ed appeared in the January 8, 2006 edition of the New York Times.
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