More than half the city’s non-English-speaking students don’t learn enough English in three years to move into mainstream classes, and some older students still can’t make the grade after nine years, Board of Education statistics show.

School officials called the newly released findings a success yesterday, saying the younger they got students into special language programs, the faster they moved into all-English classes.

But critics decried the results – with only 49.4% of students moving into English classes after three years – as a failure for the system’s 177,000 non-English-speaking students. “These are shocking results, and they show that something needs to be fixed,” said Randy Mastro, co-chairman of the mayor’s Task Force on Bilingual Education.

Armed with the latest numbers, the task force is expected to release its recommendations for reform in bilingual and English-language instruction this month.

The study followed 16,476 students from 1990 to 1999. Among the more troubling findings:

* Of the students who entered first grade in 1991, 22.6% still couldn’t speak or write English well enough to test out of the language support programs by last year.

* Among students who entered sixth grade in 1992, 54.8% still couldn’t make the grade in English by last year and could not graduate on time.

* Of students entering ninth grade in 1992, 85.2% had not tested out by 1998, again graduating late.

There are two options for students not proficient in English. They can take bilingual classes, in which most of the instruction is in the student’s native language, or English-as-a-second-language classes, in which English is taught for about three hours a day. Both programs are intended to be a temporary bridge to all-English instruction.

A comparison of student performance in pre-kindergarten through third grade found students taking English-as-a-second-language classes moved to all-English classes faster than those in bilingual programs.

The state requires non-English-speaking students to get yearly extensions to continue in bilingual ed if they do not know enough English to test out after three years. All students are supposed to test out after six years.

“My 14-year-old daughter could talk street English, but she could not read a book for babies,” said Martina Ramos of Washington Heights. “They taught her Spanish in school. That is no good. She knows Spanish. I put her in Catholic school. Now she can read English.”


Bilingual Education Facts:About 177,000 public school students* don’t speak English, or don’t speak it well enough to be in mainstream classrooms.There are 145 languages and dialects spoken in city public schools.The following percentages of students who began language support – bilingual education or “English as a Second Language” classes – in 1991 or 1992 did not learn enough English to test out of the program in three years: 38% of kindergartners 48.5% of first-graders 57.6% of second-graders 61.6% of third-graders 82.7% of sixth-graders 88.9% of ninth-graders*Includes special edSource: Board of Education

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