L.A. Unified Decides Not To Sue Over Tests

Education: Board opts to evaluate all students in English, as law requires, no matter what their language. Attorney says lawsuit would be hard to win.

The Los Angeles Board of Education reluctantly retreated Monday from plans to sue the state over a new statewide testing law, agreeing instead to test all students in English, regardless of the language they speak.

Just two weeks ago, the board that governs the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first of several complaining urban education systems to agree to challenge Gov. Pete Wilson’s program in court. At the time, board members said it would be unfair–and they thought illegal–to give the English-language Stanford 9 test to students in bilingual programs.

On Monday, outside legal counsel advised the district against filing suit. Board members said attorney Vilma Martinez suggested that the district was unlikely to win and could even gain a more unworkable judgment in court.

Martinez, who was among those advising the district on opposing Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration initiative, was unavailable for comment.

“I was disappointed with her advice . . . but we can’t just go on our instincts,” said board Vice President Vicki Castro, whose central Los Angeles region includes many new immigrants.

It would be difficult to prove that a student was being harmed by the law, Castro said, because the test is not scheduled until mid-March.

Castro said she would actively assist the district’s efforts to attack the statewide testing program by advising parents that they can demand that their children be exempted from the test and by informing teachers that children who are overwhelmed by the test do not have to complete it.

Those options are open to all children, not just those in a bilingual program. But testing children in a language that they do not understand is “sort of ridiculous,” said board member George Kiriyama.

“The issues and the concerns have not changed, only the approach to addressing them,” said L.A. Unified Supt. Ruben Zacarias.

Zacarias said the state’s largest district, home to 88 languages, would continue its efforts to persuade the state to exclude the scores of children in bilingual programs when test results are posted on the Internet this summer. A lack of familiarity with English, he and others said, could unfairly lower scores.

Wilson’s education spokesman, Dan Edwards, said the district was smart to “decide not to flaunt the law.” But Edwards added that selectively reporting the scores at the state level is precluded under the current law.

Monday’s vote by the board was unanimous. The previous decision had been opposed only by board member David Tokofsky, who had said at the time that he did not believe that the district should shy away from total accountability.

On Monday, Tokofsky said he felt vindicated, although he shares the concerns of his colleagues about students being tested in a language that they do not understand.

“There was no sense in going legally; why make enemies?” Tokofsky said.



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