NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Students At Bilingual College Fail English Test

June 16, 1997

Attorneys for irate college seniors who failed a simple English proficiency exam at the City University of New York (CUNY) argue their clients should receive diplomas anyway. The students claim they were led to believe they would not have to take the exam in order to graduate.

At the center of the controversy is former U.S. Rep. Herman Badillo, sponsor of the Bilingual Education Act of 1974. Badillo was also responsible for the creation of Hostos Community College -- the one bilingual institution in the CUNY system. Now he is reportedly very much aware of the pitfalls of bilingual education.

  • Entering freshmen at Hostos, which has a student body 80 percent Hispanic, are required to write a brief essay called the Writing Assessment Test -- an exam required of all students entering any one of CUNY's 21 colleges.
  • Those failing the test -- which is geared to a seventh-grade level -- are required to take remedial courses and eventually pass them, with as many opportunities as they wish to retake it, in order to graduate.
  • Although the test requires students to write only 300 English words on such subjects as America as the land of opportunity, or whether celebrities make good role models -- the students protested that the test was too difficult.
  • Hostos administrators substituted an even easier test -- which the overwhelming majority of students taking it also failed.

CUNY's board of trustees told students they must pass the original test in order to receive a diploma; but only 13 out of 104 of those taking the test passed.

Badillo notes that after three years of bilingual education at CUNY, 85 percent of the deficient students can't read or write English -- only 15 percent are qualified to go into a regular program.

Source: Dorothy Rabinowitz (WSJ editorial board), "Reading, Writing and Graduation," Wall Street Journal, June 16, 1997.


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