New School Standards Present Challenge for Refugee Students

Apr. 16, 2014 / By

San Diego Voice, News Report, Kimetha Hill, Posted: Apr 16, 2014

Photo courtesy of San Diego Refugee Tutoring Center

Editor’s Note: As California schools scramble to prepare for the new educational standards known as Common Core, teachers who work with refugee students have a different concern: the new computerized tests could make these students fall even further behind.

SAN DIEGO — Two months after arriving in the country, Somali refugee Khalid is struggling to adapt to the second grade. But now he may face a new challenge: As his school rolls out a new set of educational standards known as Common Core, he could fall even further behind.

The new standards emphasize a deeper knowledge of subjects and reasoning skills, and require a stronger facility with language and computers — areas in which refugee students are already struggling.

“We put them into grades based on their age, not on their skills,” explains Melissa Phillips about the U.S. policy regarding placement of refugee children. A teacher at Ibarra Elementary and the co-founder of San Diego Refugee Tutoring, Phillips has spent the past 12 years teaching newly settled refugees in the city. She says many will need additional support if they are to succeed under the Common Core.

“You have one kid who doesn’t know what the number 2 looks like, the other kid doesn’t know how to add, the other kid can’t borrow, and in class you’re working on decimals,” she says. “These kids just need one-on-one help.”

Critics of the new standards say they supersede students’ cognitive abilities, especially in the earlier grades. In math, for example, second graders are now expected to master skills that under the previous California State Standards had been introduced a year later.

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