Newsday -- May 16, 2005
                by Ellen Yan

The teen was barely off the plane from Colombia when she took one test and then another yesterday at Jamaica's JHS 217.

"She just got here," one teacher said to the test proctor as the new student, 14, sat by herself in the library, her pink and white sandals, as well as her blue sparkle nails, as new as her life in Queens.

The proctor, Paula Nieto, sort of shrugged. The teenager, whose name is being withheld by request, had just taken a 90-minute state test on English proficiency, and after a lunch break, it was time for the eighth-grade math test.

"I think it's a little crazy," Nieto said as she handed out the Spanish version of the test. "This girl is scared. Right now, she's nervous."

It may not have been the best welcome, but it was a sign of how test-driven the education system has become nationwide, educators said.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools can get on the watch list if even one student fails to take a standardized test. This helps put a stop to schools that used to coast along and test only well-performing kids to preserve their reputations, but it also gives educators few options for children who have just arrived from places where they received little or no education.

In the past, state and city education officials put a premium on every student taking tests, but there was no threat to withdraw funding, as there is in the federal education act.

At schools like 217, which serves many immigrants, it's common for children to start classes long after September. The test-taking teenager had left her father in Cali, once known for its drug wars, and arrived here with her mother and younger brother three months ago.

Due to problems getting the required vaccinations and doctor's physicals, she didn't show up until Thursday, during the math test makeup period.

In the old days, principal Jeannette Reed said, the newcomer would have about two weeks to settle down before getting less formal assessments created by 217 teachers to identify her skills and needs. She would have been assigned a "buddy," a Spanish-speaking student mentor, from Colombia, if possible.

"When we bring a child like that who's new to our country and culture and we test them," Reed said, "I don't know what that does to help the child or the school."