English Woes Linked to Dropout Rate

High school students still struggling with English in their senior year dropped out at a strikingly higher rate than their more fluent classmates, a pair of immigrant and child advocacy groups said in a report released yesterday.

An estimated 31.7 percent of Class of 2001 seniors listed as English Language Learners quit school before graduating, compared to a 19.6 percent dropout rate among native-English-speaking classmates.

But onetime English Language Learners who became proficient at reading, writing and speaking by senior year graduated on time at an even higher rate than native English speakers – 58.6 percent, compared to 52.5 percent. The 46-page report by the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children of New York said the results show that better programs and more qualified teachers to help immigrants learn English – particularly in underperforming schools – would help dramatically lower the dropout rate.

The city spends about $165 million annually on bilingual education and English as a Second Language programs, says the city Independent Budget Office.

But the report said a lot of immigrant students are tripped up by the intensifying Regents requirements, as they are pitted against fluent English speakers, the report noted.

“This one-size-fits-all graduation standard makes absolutely no sense with the level of diversity we have in the school system,” said Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

“Most kids can meet this graduation standard if given the right programs,” McHugh said.

The report is based on city and state education data.

Some 14 percent of the 65,727-student Class of 2001 were classified as English Language Learners and never became proficient in English, according to the report.

Responding to a question about the report, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that it was “intolerable” to have certain categories of students left behind, and he added that the next schools chancellor will need to look into the problem.

Board of Education officials said that they already have begun addressing the disparity.

Edna Vega, superintendent of the Board of Education’s Office of English Language Learners, is hopeful there will be an improvement in graduation rates among immigrant students with language hurdles.

“I don’t think we need to change the standards,” Vega said. “We need to keep the standards but provide the safety nets and support. We’re going in the right direction.”

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