Poor performance from Guyanese students in English test

From Vishnu Bisram
Guyana Chronicle
June 27, 1999

NEW YORK -- Guyanese students, not surprisingly, have not been doing well in a new English test, called the English Regents, which all students must pass to graduate from high school.

Only about half of New York's students have passed the basic test and the results for Guyanese appear to be even lower.

And this year's test, which is tougher, has created anxiety among immigrant advocates.

The results for all immigrant students have been dismally poor especially and worse so for students with limited English. One in four New York students is foreign born and many more are from parents who are foreign born and whose primary language is not English.

As many as half of the students of New York City public schools come from homes where English is not the dominant language. Less than 25 per cent of these non-fluent English students have passed the test.

There are no specific studies on how poorly Guyanese students did.

But a preliminary investigation by this writer of five Brooklyn and Queens high schools where Guyanese students predominate does not reveal a passing rate that is different from other immigrant students.

Overall, just about 29 per cent of Guyanese students who took the test passed at their first try.

More than half of the students took the test two or more times before passing.

Some 11 per cent are yet to pass after taking it a few times.

In one school, 33 Guyanese sat the exam and only 11 passed.

In this school, five Indo-Guyanese took the test and three passed; of the 28 Afro-Guyanese who took the test, six passed at their first try.

But these figures by no means reveal any trend in terms of race and performance.

The main problem with most Guyanese students, regardless of racial background, is that they imitate their American friends, hang out when they are supposed to be studying and make very little effort to improve themselves.

Studying, reading and writing are not their priority.

And parents do no have the time to supervise their children.

Also, Guyanese students are supposed to be conversant in standard English.

But most are not. They communicate with friends and relatives and at home in their native creolese dialect.

Thus, they have very little practice in communicating with English which provides a problem for them to read and write proper English.

And as such, they are misplaced in `English As A Second Language' classes where Spanish-speaking students are placed, giving them very little room for improvement in English.

Because of their poor ability to communicate and behaviour problems, many are also placed in Special Education Classes (which are stigmatised as classes for slow learners or retarded students).

In these classes, there is virtually no room for Guyanese to develop skills in communicating in English because the students are, for all practical purposes, "mentally retarded" and very slow.

And the regular classes are so crowded that it is difficult for students to learn.

There is definitely an urgent need to re-examine the way most Guyanese students are taught in New York.

Schools may have to consider using a different approach to teaching students who do not communicate in standard English.

Schools may have to consider hiring teachers familiar with the background of these students or train teachers to understand the difficulties the students faced in Guyana before migrating to New York and their unique problems in communicating in English at home.

In addition, there must be some way to encourage students to communicate in English as well as in their native language.

Studies have shown that students who grew up speaking English perform better in standardised tests than those who do not communicate in perfect English.

It behoves parents and students therefore to communicate in standard English than in creolese.

A report last week in the prestigious New York Times assailed the performance and highlighted the plight of immigrant students.

Advocates for immigrants in New York have warned that the results of the English Regents which have been consistently poor would be catastrophic for this year; this year's exam is being modified to make it even more difficult and twice as long (six hours) as before.

These advocates have questioned whether schools have done enough to prepare children for the tougher requirements. They also contend that students are not properly assessed.

Advocates are saying that students should first acquire skills before taking the exam because they are completely unprepared for it.

Most cannot adequately read or write and therefore need further preparation.

Many Guyanese students are enrolled in after school and evening programmes to help prepare them to pass this and other standardised tests in Math, Social Studies, and sciences.

But these are like regular classes. There is no individualised attention to address specific academic deficiencies the student has.

In fact, the classes are very crowded and most of the times unhelpful.

According to one Guyanese teacher at a school in Richmond Hill, "Guyanese need to get back to basics and they need immersion courses in the subjects if they are going to perform satisfactorily and the parents need to take control of the home".

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples