Equity & Diversity

N.Y.C. District Urged to Do More for ELLs Who Missed School

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 26, 2010 2 min read
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New York City’s department of education should undertake a review of its programs for students with interrupted formal education, or SIFE, and create a more comprehensive plan for the identification and education of such students, says a report released today by Advocates for Children of New York.

In 2009, the school district identified 15,410 of its nearly 150,000 English-language learners as SIFE. That’s one in ten ELLs. In New York City, that means the students entered a U.S. school after 2nd grade, have received at least two fewer years of schooling than their peers, are behind grade level in reading and math by at least two years, and may not be able to read and write in their home language. The report says that since 2003, the district has had an initiative to give grants to schools with a lot of SIFE students and improve SIFE identification, assessments, and policies. Last year, I wrote about how the district had rolled out what was believed to be the first academic diagnostic test in the nation designed solely for ELLs who had missed years of formal schooling.

The Advocates for Children of New York report includes profiles of 10 ELLs with interrupted schooling. Some of the profiles illustrate one of the report’s points that these students often have intensive social and emotional needs as well as academic ones. It talks about Xavier, for instance, who arrived in New York City at age 15. He had been homeless in his home country of Honduras and had attended school there for only one month. He came to New York City to find his mother but, unable to locate her, was put in foster care. The report also tells about Hennrick, who enrolled in school in New York City at age 17. He’d completed the equivalent of the 7th grade in Haiti. The report says that while his school had extended hours and newcomer programs for ELLs, Hennrick felt isolated at school and was overwhelmed by the work. He attended school for two years before quitting.

One of the recommendations of the report is that the district establish minimal requirements for identification of SIFE so that all schools and enrollment centers screen for the possibility that students have missed school. It also suggests that the school system collaborate with other social service systems to identify SIFE and requests more detailed reporting of data on this subgroup of ELLs, such as graduation rates for SIFE and the percentage of SIFE who also have disabilities.

The report mentions that the graduation rate for ELLs in New York City in 2009 was 39.7 percent. The district doesn’t break out the grad rate for ELLs who are SIFE.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.