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Overage and Lacking Credits in the Big Apple

If an English-language learner is moving into young adulthood and is short of a lot of credits to graduate from high school, he or she may decide to attend schools operated by the Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation run by the New York City Department of Education, which aims to reach students at risk of dropping out.

Advocates for Children of New York, a local nonprofit organization, put out a policy brief this week that contends many of those alternative schools are violating state law because they aren't offering the minimum of services required for ELLs. The policy brief says, for instance, that 59 percent of the city's 22 full-time evening programs for students who have been in high school for four years and are older than 17 1/2 don't provide language services to ELLs that are required by state law.

The policy paper notes that during the 2005-2006 school year, the four-year graduation rate for ELL high school students in New York City was 26.2 percent. It says that 30 percent of ELLs in the class of 2006 dropped out. Practically any educator, I think, would call that graduation rate for ELLs pitiful.

I was struck by how the demographics for ELLs in New York City differ from those of ELLs in Los Angeles. Over half of New York City's 139,800 ELLs were born outside of the United States, according to the policy brief. Officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District recently told me that only 22 percent of ELLs in their school system were born outside of the United States.

So when comparing student achievement statistics among school districts, it's important to remember that, on average, the academic preparation and exposure to English for ELLs can differ greatly between school districts—even between large urban school districts like New York City and Los Angeles.

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