City U. To Require English Test At Hostos

The City University Chancellor, W. Ann Reynolds, has directed Hostos Community College, a bilingual college in the Bronx, to require its students to pass a citywide English writing examination to receive a diploma.

Beginning next fall, all City University students, including those at Hostos, will have to pass the City University Writing Assessment Test, or W.A.T., to graduate, officials in Dr. Reynolds’s office said yesterday. The test is not officially required now, but the five other community colleges in the City University system make it a prerequisite for graduation.

The decision came after months of discussion over educational standards in the City University system and repeated criticism from Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Yesterday, he continued his criticism.

“We should be setting higher standards, not reducing standards,” the Mayor said at his daily news briefing. “The Chancellor should be on the side of higher standards. She should step in and exercise her leadership.”

Jay Hershenson, a university vice chancellor, said that Dr. Reynolds had made the decision because she was concerned that “standards were being eroded.”

What makes Hostos unique in the City University system is that it was created to allow bilingual students to take many classes in Spanish. About 80 percent of the 5,000 students at the college are Hispanic. Each year, about half of the entering freshmen score too low on the college’s English placement test to enroll in regular English courses and must take classes in English as a second language, which are noncredit courses.

The president of Hostos, Dr. Isaura Santiago Santiago, met with Dr. Reynolds yesterday and said after the meeting that Hostos would abide by the new requirements. But she said she hoped that City University would adopt new tests that were more representative of the diverse cultural backgrounds of many of the system’s students.

“What we’re concerned about is that the CUNY W.A.T. is only a limited measure,” Dr. Santiago said. “There is a recommendation to change the test. The CUNY W.A.T. is really a moot issue.”

In a related decision involving Hostos students, Dr. Reynolds said yesterday that students taking classes in English as a second language should not be promoted into regular English courses until they have passed a writing proficiency examination.

That examination has been the subject of controversy in recent months, prompting student complaints and a walkout from one of the testing sites.

Until last fall, Hostos used a version of the City University Writing Assessment Test to screen the bilingual students seeking spots in regular English courses, which they need for graduation, said Dr. Luis Antonio Baez, the dean of academic affairs at Hostos.

But last fall, university officials asked Hostos to discontinue using the Writing Assessment Test because students had already taken that version when they were first screened for placement in English courses. Still, only 20 percent of the bilingual students passed the examination and were able to take regular English classes.

Officials told Hostos to devise its own test, and last September, they began using the Hostos Writing Assessment Test. Dr. Baez said this examination was even harder: only 10 percent of students passed it.

Students complained about the difficulty, and Hostos officials responded by telling them they could take the test again and had the right to appeal to a college committee if they failed a second time.

Last week, a group of students retaking the examination walked out to protest the college’s reliance on the test. Dr. Baez said the walkout, as well as concerns that copies of the test had been leaked, had prompted the college to rely less on the examination results in determining promotion to regular classes. For students who have just taken the Hostos examination, the test will count 30 percent, course work will count 60 percent and a teacher evaluation will count 10 percent.

But Dr. Reynolds told Dr. Santiago yesterday that this new formula was not acceptable for future classes. She ordered that the Hostos test be the only factor in promoting a student into regular English courses.

Dr. Santiago said yesterday that Hostos would be revising the writing examination again because she and other Hostos officials believed it did not adequately reflect the students’ achievement in the bilingual classes.

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