Big O.C. impact seen for tests in English only

SCHOOLS: Many pupils in the county have limited proficiency. Some educators say the results could be useful.

An English-only testing mandate could have enormous impact in Orange County schools.

The current statewide testing program allows school districts to pick from a list of 56 tests, four of which are in Spanish. But Gov. Pete Wilson is insisting that student testing be administered only in English.

Al Mijares, superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, said Thursday that about 70 percent of the 52,000 students in his district have limited-English skills.

“We have kids, all different ages, who don’t speak any English,” he said. “If I hand them a test, I can tell you before they take the test how they’re going to do. “

But Mijares said it would be a mistake to turn the testing issue into a polarized political debate.

If Wilson’s mandate is intended to measure English proficiency on tests, it could be useful. If it is used as a gauge of proficiency in other subjects, however, it could misjudge students’ abilities.

“I, for one, am not going to get sucked into (the position) that this is evil because it comes from the political right,” Mijares
said. Assemblyman Steve Baldwin, R-El Cajon, who is on a
legislative task force on testing, said that “if your goal is to get more kids into English fluency as soon as possible, then it doesn’t make any sense to test in Spanish. “

“Even if they score a 10, it tells the school what they are doing well or not doing well. Maybe the next year, the kid scores a 50,” Baldwin said.

Alicia Carter, a bilingual-education teacher, said Thursday that she is already dealing with a waiver in the Orange Unified School District that lifts bilingual education requirements for two years.

Such programs focus attention on children’s shortcomings, she said.

“It’s unfair,” said Carter, who teaches at ProspectElementary School. “What makes it unfair is that people look at (the tests) and start judging (the students). “

Language is just one issue that four lawmakers are hashing out in private as they try to fashion a testing program to meet Wilson’s budget demand that all students be given a standardized test in the spring.

Democrats and education lobbyists have resisted Wilson’s budget proposal to buy one standardized test and require all districts to use it in grades 2 through 11 next year. They argue that the state should wait and either buy or design a test that meshes with the academic standards being developed by the state Board of Education.

But that will force students to wait until 1999 or 2000 to be given a standardized test with individual scores _ too long, according to Wilson. The governor has said it is critical to begin testing as soon as possible, particularly to measure the success of two key education initiatives _ smaller class sizes and phonics-based reading instruction _ and to provide children with an individual assessment of their progress.

Register staff writer Pat Brennan
contributed to this report.

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