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  • Creating a Formula for Success: Why English Language Learner Students Are Dropping Out of School, and How to Increase Graduation Rates

    This report, released jointly by AFC and the New York Immigration Coalition, analyzes the educational outcomes of English Language Learners (ELLs) since the implementation of new graduation standards. The report shows that the majority of children who have utilized bilingual or ESL programs with enough time and support have become proficient in English and have the highest rates of success on the new state tests. The report also shows that students currently enrolled in these programs – many of whom are very recent arrivals in the country or are students with interrupted formal education (SIFE) – fare the worst under the new standards, with more of them dropping out than graduating.

    Jun 18, 2002

    Teenage girl sitting on the floor of a library, reading a book. (Photo by Ludovic Delot via Pexels)
    Photo by Ludovic Delot via Pexels

    The release of the report was timed to coincide with the administration of the State’s English Language Arts Regents Examination, an exam for which the groups claim too few immigrant students have received the level of instruction they need in order to pass.

    “New York’s immigrant families are being robbed of the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Too many of their children who are English Language Learners have not received the additional help they were promised to meet the new graduation standards, with the result that these students now have the highest dropout rate of any group of students in the school system,” said Margie McHugh, Executive Director of the NYIC, an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for roughly 150 groups in New York that work with immigrants and refugees. “The report we are releasing today shows that the implementation of the new testing requirements for graduation have resulted in escalating dropout and pushout rates for students who could be among the system’s best performers. As Mayor Bloomberg takes control of the New York City schools, we call on him to make the goal of increasing graduation rates for ELLs a top priority,” McHugh said.

    “The data in our report show that students whose native language is not English have fared both the best and the worst under the new standards,” said Jill Chaifetz, Executive Director of AFC, an educational advocacy organization dedicated to assuring that New York City school children have access to a quality education.

    The report provides a blueprint for making sure that the ingredients for successful ELL programs are available everywhere they are needed. High quality ESL and bilingual programs are the best vehicle for helping immigrant kids to succeed under the new standards. Let’s fix the problems by building upon what works, and targeting resources where there is the greatest need.”

    Jill Chaifetz, Executive Director of AFC

    “One of our key recommendations is for the Mayor to adopt a “Comstat-like” approach to improve ELL graduation rates. We believe the Mayor should focus on all middle and high schools in which ELL educational outcomes are below acceptable levels, have the Chancellor assume oversight for these schools and increase accountability for improvements in educational outcomes for ELLs,” Chaifetz said.

    The report documents the fact that 60% of students in the Class of 2001 who began high school as an ELL became proficient in English during high school. These “former” ELLs have the highest four-year graduation rate (58.2%) and the lowest dropout rate (15.2%) of all students; in comparison, 52.6% of native English-speaking students graduated in four years and 19.6% dropped out. However, for those students who were in ELL status as seniors, only 30.1% graduated and 30.3% dropped out at the end of four years. This data is similar to that for the Class of 2000, meaning that since the implementation of the new graduation standards, more ELLs are dropping out after four years of high school than are graduating.

    The experiences of dozens of ELL students who had dropped out or been pushed out of school were included in the report to add a human dimension to the report’s data. They spoke of their feelings of hopelessness trying to meet the tough new standards when their classroom instruction was so inadequate, and of school personnel who encouraged them to leave school and obtain a GED if they could, since they were behind other mainstream students in accumulating course credits and were unlikely to meet the new standards.

    The need to recruit and retain certified ESL and bilingual teachers, to expand professional development, and to assign the most experienced teachers to the lowest performing schools are other key recommendations in the report. Another key recommendation to lower dropout rates and increase graduation rates for ELLs is to provide an alternative assessment to the English Language Arts Regents requirement for late entrant ELLs.

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