CUNY’s foreign students get break on English tests

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By Daniel Arimborgo

The City University of New York, which includes Queens College, York College, Queensborough Community College and LaGuardia Community College, has eased the grading of standardized reading tests given to students for whom English is a second language.

Mayor Giuliani has criticized the action, calling it a lowering of standards, but CUNY officials contend the lowering of passing marks is merely an adjustment for the nationally standardized test.

The test is prepared by American College Testing Incorporated, based in Iowa.

“The trustees required that we begin testing students according to a nationally standardized test in reading and writing,” said CUNY spokesman Michael Arena. “This is the first time this national test has been implemented in the City University.”

Arena said all students taking the test have to pass it in order to move out of remedial programs.

The new passing grade is a score of 36 points out a of a possible 53, instead of a passing score of 40 for an earlier test. The change resulted in about 60 percent of the students passing the test in December, compared with 27 percent for a previous test.

Arena said the passing mark was lowered because the national test is based on a 10 percent foreign-born population, which was typical for other areas of the country but not for New York City, where he said the immigrant student population was closer to 35 percent.

“There was a strong sense that the ESL population was not accounted for in the test,” Arena said. “We are going to give a new test for these students, and we hope this will give a better assessment of the skills required.”

Arena said a newer version of the test is being prepared for future use.

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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