Students lack English skills

By Alex Gary

Increases in incoming students who struggle with English are affecting NIU.

“We have seen an increase of students (in freshman English) who lack basic English skills,” said Robert Self, director of NIU freshman English, in response to a recent Chicago Sun-Times article.

The article, titled “More Students Found to Lack English Skills,” cites a U.S. Education Department report which states some disturbing trends.

Among the report’s findings is that Illinois is the fifth-largest state in terms of having students in high school with little English skills. Illinois trails only California, Texas, New York and Florida.

In fact, the Chicago public schools have seen a 46 percent increase in the past five years in students who are poor in English, according to the article.

Self said these trends affect NIU at the freshman level and is causing NIU to increase education efforts at that level. “We run a special section of English 103 for students who lack English skills,” Self said.

Self also said in response to the problem, his department has been offering a writing center for incoming freshmen students and an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutorial clinic for incoming immigrant students.

Each of these programs concentrates on a different type of student, Self said. The ESL clinic is for students who do not speak English as their native language.

The writing center can also be used by immigrant students but was established to help native students who come out of high school with poor English skills.

Self said enrollment in these optional programs is increasing, but he hopes more will be done in the future. “(NIU has not) increased the number of ESL sections, but we need to,” Self said.

James Miller, chair of NIU’s English department, said because of budgetary constraints this year, no increases in ESL sections are forthcoming. “There is nothing likely in the short term,” Miller said.

Self cited another problem that needs to be addressed. “We do not have a good way to identify the students who need help,” Self said.

Currently the way the English department identifies these students is through the instructor discovering the problem on a one-by-one basis, he said.

However, Self said this process allows for some students to get lost in the shuffle. “(NIU) has put these students into regular freshman English where these students are more at risk,” Self said.