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New Bilingual-Ed. Rules To Expand N.Y. Program

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The New York State Board of Regents has approved rules enlarging the state's bilingual-education programs by expanding the definition of a limited-English-proficient student.

The new standard is expected to add an estimated 33,000 students to the 100,000 currently enrolled in bilingual-education classes in New York State.

The board endorsed the rules Nov. 17 despite vocal opposition from U.S. English, a Washington-based lobby group that seeks to have English declared the nation's official language.

The new rules, effective in the 1990-91 school year, will allow many children to remain in bilingual programs who formerly would have been removed because they scored too high on English-competency tests.

Under the previous standard, students who scored above the 23rd percentile on English tests were moved to classes taught in that language.

The new rules, however, permit students who score up to the 40th percentile on such tests to remain in programs that teach bilingual education or English as a second language.

State education department officials have predicted that the change will cost the state an estimated $10.5 million a year.

Yale Newman, director of research and communication for U.S. English, said his organization plans to lobby the legislature to block funding for the program expansion.

Hispanic groups endorsed the new rules. Previously, they argued, l.e.p. children were removed from bilingual-education programs before they could keep pace with their peers in classes taught in English.

"Scoring at the 23rd percentile did not indicate a level of proficiency that was necessary to do academic tasks," said Luis O. Reyes, director of research and advocacy for Aspira of New York Inc., a Puerto Rican youth-advocacy group.

The United Federation of Teachers and the New York State School Boards Association also supported the expansion in bilingual programs.

But U.S. English argued that bilingual programs prevent children from learning the English-language skills they need to succeed in the United States. Moreover, the group maintained, the schools do not have either enough money or enough bilingual teachers to handle an expansion in the program.

"There is no justification for entrapping and segregating students for a further period of years, which is what this program will do by raising the exit point from the 23rd to 40th percentile," Mr. Newman said.

"Bilingual education is not the panacea for teaching English," he added. "There are other methodologies out there that are as effective or more effective."

The new rules require districts to screen for l.e.p. students and provide state-approved bilingual or e.s.l. programs as a condition for receiving state bilingual-education funding.

Although U.S. English failed to block the new rules, Mr. Newman noted that his organization did manage to win some concessions, such as getting the state to back off rule changes requiring all districts to provide bilingual education.

The New York City school system, which includes about 80 percent of the state's l.e.p. students, had voluntarily raised its own bilingual-program exit point to the 40th percentile last year. The district asked for a change in the state rules so the program expansions could receive state funding.

In July, the board passed rules allowing districts to raise their bilingual-program exit points to the 40th percentile voluntarily.

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