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The Other Student: NYC’s Hidden Graduation Rate Crisis Among English Language Learners

The recent publication of graduation rates for the class of 2006 in New York City public schools — first the city’s calculations and then the state’s measurements — were greeted as good news by Chancellor Klein, Mayor Bloomberg and State Education Commissioner Rick Mills, given the overall increase in the four year graduation rate. But lost in those improvements was a decline in the graduation rates of a key cohort at higher risk for academic failure, English Language Learners [ELLs].

According to the city’s calculations, only 26.2% of ELLs in the class of 2006 graduated on time, compared to 61.1% for English Proficient Students. Worse, this represented a decrease of 9% from the 2005 four-year ELL graduation rate of 35.3%. The state set the four year graduation rate at 22%, reflecting its more parsimonious method of counting graduates. The five and six year graduation rates increase significantly [for the classes of 2003 and 2004] — as one would expect, given the additional time needed to master English and meet standards for recent immigrant ELLs — but they remain below 1 in 2.

Such a decline, at a time when overall graduation rates are increasing, tells a story of the institutional neglect of those NYC public school students who most need extra academic and social supports to suceed. It comes after exposés of the failure of the new small high schools to educate ELLs. The commentary of the New York Immigration Coalition summarizes it all:

These rates underscore the urgency to ensure that ELLs receive the instruction and support they need and that funding intended to help these students succeed actually translates into more ESL and Bilingual teachers and better quality ELL programs.

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