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New warring memos dispute ELLs’ performance under Klein

The city Department of Education today heralded performance gains among students who are considered English language learners in a new report about how those students have fared under Chancellor Joel Klein’s leadership.

The tone of the report and its accompanying press release is very different from the tone of Friday’s mayoral control hearing in the Bronx, where numerous speakers complained that the department has paid too little attention to ELL students.

The report declares that Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have built a “stronger system-wide infrastructure” to support English language learners, and says that the efforts are “starting to bear fruit.” More than 29% of fourth-graders met English standards in 2008, compared to 4% in 2003; 64% met math standards in 2008, up from 36% in 2003. The report cautions that middle school test scores and graduation rates are not as rosy, but points out that former English language learners — students who once received help in learning English but have since tested proficient at English — are out-performing even non-ELL students.

The report paints a very different picture from the one presented at the Bronx hearing Friday. There, one advocate, Deycy Avitia of the New York Immigration Coalition, supplied a fact sheet showing that ELLs lag behind other students in a number of indicators. Avitia told me today that the DOE’s press release leaves out important facts, such as that only 5 percent of ELL students meet state requirements in English at the middle school level. (The full report argues that “less dramatic gains” among middle schoolers “underscore the immediate demand for deeper, more focused attention on subpopulations with specialized learning needs.”)

“We recognize that some progress has been made at the elementary school level, but it was a huge oversight not to mention the crisis at the middle and high school levels,” Avitia said.

Avitia said that the graduation rate for ELLs is actually falling. Some advocates predict that the rate will drop even further as new, stronger graduation requirements go into effect. The DOE report characterizes the graduation rate among English language learners as “flat”: According to the report, it was 31.6% in 2003 and 30.8% in 2007.