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Increase in immigrants challenge schools

Gaining ESL students makes standards harder to meet, study finds


Staff Writer

North Carolina will face tougher challenges keeping up with federal academic requirements as more immigrant children enroll in schools, a new study has found.

The state has the second fastest growing pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade population in the country, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute study to be released today.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that a higher percentage of students pass standardized math and reading tests each year. Meeting those requirements will become harder as school systems admit an increasingly larger proportion of non-English-speaking students.

"Those two forces are colliding," said Randy Capps, lead author of the "The New Demography of America's Schools: Immigration and the No Child Left Behind Act."

Hispanics, who make up 12 percent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools population, account for most of the immigrant growth in the district. Nearly 2,500 more Hispanic students reported on the first day of school this year.

"All these things don't surprise me because I've been living it," said Katherine Meads, director of second languages at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Ten years ago, CMS had 2,000 students learning to speak English, and now there are more than 10,000, she said.

But Meads said some schools, such as Montclair Elementary, have shown that they're able to adjust to their growing student bodies.

The Hispanic population at the Farmbrook Drive school jumped nearly 10 percentage points this year to 65 percent. But the school has done well under federal and state guidelines.

But with so many new students who don't speak English, Principal Mary Sturge acknowledges she is concerned about maintaining such a high success rate.

"I can tell you that right now we're nervous about the writing test," she said.

"Our fourth-graders have to pass the writing test. And when you're knew to the country, the last thing you're going to master is the writing."

Immigrant Students

The children of immigrants now are one-fifth of all U.S. school-age children. Nine percent of N.C. students are the children of immigrants. Here are the five states with the highest percentage of immigrant students.

California: 47 percent

Nevada: 29 percent

New York: 28 percent

Texas: 27 percent

Florida: 26 percent

Urban Institute study