Original URL:  http://www.staronline.com/vcs/opinion/article/0,1375,VCS_125_2397610,00.html

Whats the point behind a Spanish language GED test?
Ventura County Star
November 3, 2003
By Roger E. Hernandez

Starting in January, the General Educational Development test (adults who didn't finish school but pass the test get the equivalent of a high-school diploma) given in Spanish will become tougher. It will have more challenging sections on science, social studies, math and reading.

It's supposed to match the standards of the English-language test. Bad idea. Not making it tougher. Offering it in any language but English is a bad idea.

I say that even though I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to defending bilingual education.

It's a good thing that, at least in some districts, immigrant high-school students who don't know English can take courses in their native language while they learn English.

Sure, some bilingual programs are incompetently managed, with the result that some students end up graduating without knowing enough English to succeed in college or get a decent job.

But that's cause to criticize individual programs, not to question bilingual education in general. It makes sense for kids to be taught geometry, for instance, in a language they understand until they know English well enough to take geometry in English. The alternative is to sit in a classroom where the student can't understand the teacher.

And what's the point in that? The concept of bilingual ed is to help students keep up with other academic subjects until they learn English.

The problem comes when knowing English is not a goal. No better example of that than the federal government policy that allows GED tests in Spanish.

Because passing the GED is officially equivalent to getting a high-school diploma, Washington is saying -- explicitly and unblushingly -- that you can be a high-school graduate without knowing English. Which is every bit as absurd as forcing the kid who doesn't know English to sit through that English-language geometry class.

In that case, the class becomes meaningless -- the kid can't possibly learn geometry. In the other case, the diploma becomes meaningless -- what good is an American high-school diploma if you can't speak English?

The Spanish GED was first developed for use in Puerto Rico. It makes sense there. Puerto Rico is a Spanish-speaking island. Spanish is the language of the schools and most workplaces. English is a plus, not a must.

In Puerto Rico, it's Spanish that's a must.

A GED test in Spanish can even make sense here, in a limited way. It is perfectly possible for someone who does not know English to know as much math or science as someone who does know English. It is perfectly possible for someone to read and write Spanish, but not English, at a level appropriate for a high-school graduate.

Nothing wrong with a test that measures those things. It benefits all when a teacher knows the academic level of a particular student, aside from his or her skills in English.

But such a test should be a tool for educational assessment only, not the official equivalent of a diploma from a high school in one of the 50 states.

In these 50 states, the predominant language remains English. Shouldn't a high-school diploma guarantee that the holder knows enough English to at least get by on the job? Shouldn't a high-school diploma guarantee that the holder knows enough English to at least get by in college?

With the awful state of public education, that's not necessarily so, even for native English-speakers. But at least schools try. When it comes to the Spanish-language GED, even the pretense is no longer there.

The people hurt the most are those who take the GED in Spanish, assuming that passing it will make them qualified for college or for a decent job.

It does neither, no matter how challenging the test is made.

-- Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.