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Bilingual & Immigrant Education

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A battle over academic standards--and how students who are not fully proficient in English are included in those standards--is brewing in California.

A panel of educators last month released proposed state content standards that seek to spell out what high school students should know in mathematics and English language arts. ("Math, English Standards Released in Calif." Nov. 27,1996.) But educators who work with the state's 1.3 million limited-English-proficient students are wondering how those students will be judged against the standards, which must be implemented by 1998.

The state's leading advocacy and professional groups for LEP students and their teachers--the California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages and the California Association for Bilingual Education--have argued that, so far, the proposed standards do not do enough to distinguish between native English speakers and those learning English.

Both groups agree that LEP students should be held to the same high standards as native English speakers. But how fairly they are measured against those standards--and whether the standards become roadblocks to a diploma--is of major concern.

"Standards are cheap, but assessments are expensive," said Kara Lee Rosenberg, the president of CATESOL. "That's where this usually all falls apart."

Many LEP students may achieve a relatively high level of oral English but still write in patterns indicative of their native languages, said Silvina Rubinstein, the executive director of CABE. And LEP students who come to California schools as teenagers will be hard pressed to perform in English classes on a par with their native English-speaking peers, she said.

Many academically successful teenagers believe immigration and affirmative action policies will stand in the way of getting the jobs they want or of being accepted by the colleges of their choice, a national survey says.

In the annual Who's Who Among American High School Students survey, 59 percent of the respondents said they think immigration and affirmative action will make it harder to get the jobs they want. Forty-nine percent said they believe the policies will make it harder to get into college; 52 percent said there are too many immigrants in the United States.

The survey, which was released last month, was conducted among 3,370 high school students with an A or B average.

—LYNN SCHNAIBERG lschnaib@epe.org

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