March 30, 2004 — Senators on the Education and Youth Committee heard testimony Monday night that the vocational education, GED and bilingual education programs are not meeting the required standards to prepare V.I. students for success in the public and private sector.
On behalf of Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, insular superintendent Terrance Joseph presented the committee with 24 pages of testimony concerning the state of education throughout the territory. (Michael was unable to attend the hearing "due to critical matters pertaining to the compliance agreement," Joseph stated.) Joseph's testimony included the status of vocational education, the General Educational Development (GED) program and bilingual education.
In earlier testimony before the committee, teachers and administrators painted a bleak picture on the state of vocational/technical education in the territory.
According to Joseph's testimony, 5,083 persons participated in the vocational education program during school year 2002-2003. "The vision of vocational education in the territory is to provide students the opportunity to learn a marketable skill prior to high school graduation," said Joseph. The report outlined that the federal allocation was increased by 25 percent over the past years to $1.25 million, with a present budget of $1.33 million
Joseph said the departments greatest hurdle is providing vocational services to special education students. "Our commitment is opening up programs to our special-needs students. This requires the modification of equipment for safety purposes as well as the employment of resource teachers to assist in the training of theses students," Joseph said.
The report states several critical challenges facing the vocational/technical education programs, including insufficient funding, current graduation requirements and the creation of a needs-based professional development program for teachers.
Joseph said that vocational education is introduced in four phases of a students academic development process: career awareness from kindergarten through grade six, career exploration from seventh to eighth grade, pre-vocational for ninth-graders and occupational for tenth- to twelfth-graders.
Regarding the GED program, Joseph said the department has contracted with the GED Testing Service in Washington, D.C., to allow testing in both English and Spanish.
According to Joseph, testing is administered to residents over 16 years old, and prison inmates are also eligible for testing. He also noted that residents from neighboring Caribbean islands can take the GED test because there are no residency requirements.
Earlier this month, a local news broadcast interviewed students who said they could not receive testing services because the department was unable to secure the tests because of unpaid balances to the GED vendor. The education department charges individuals a $25 fee to administer the GED exam.
On the matter of bilingual education, the commissioners report outlined eight schools in the St. Croix district and seven in the St. Thomas-St. John district offering bilingual services.
Joseph said the program must be responsive to the diverse cultural backgrounds of V.I. families. "Programs are not designed or intended to eradicate or supplant the home language or culture," he said. "They are specially designed to allow students to master cognitive, academic and language skills while maintaining his or her cultural identity."
Joseph said there are students who may be in need of bilingual education, but that a lack of qualified teachers restricts administering those services.
During the 2002-03 school year, 82 percent of the students in the bilingual program were Spanish speaking, while the remaining 18 percent consisted of Patois, Arabic, French, Creole, Chinese, Punjabi and Portuguese.
Senators present at Monday night's hearing were Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee, Usie Richards and Chairman Ronald Russell.
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