OCEANSIDE —- Standardized test scores released by state educators this week have improved for the second straight year —- especially among limited-English speakers —- for Oceanside public school students taking the state’s new Stanford Achievement Test-Ninth Edition, or SAT-9.

The Oceanside Unified School District has received national attention for its strict interpretation of Proposition 227, a voter initiative passed in June 1998 to limit bilingual education. The state’s public schools began using the SAT-9 the same year.

Unlike many school districts, Oceanside closely followed Prop. 227 and eliminated all bilingual classes in favor of English-only “immersion”
classes for non-English and limited-English speakers.

“In the beginning, many of us were skeptical, including myself, but especially teachers,” Superintendent Ken Noonan said Tuesday. “Yet the teachers turned around and made it work in the classroom.”

All the district’s teachers, whether they supported the initiative or not,
supported the district’s use of immersion classes after the measure passed,
Noonan said.

The strongest test-score increases reported in the district’s results in 1999 and this year were in the second grade, where classes are smaller and students have spent the least amount of time, if any, in bilingual classes.

Second-grade reading test scores for the district’s limited-English students were at the 13th percentile in 1998, meaning 87 percent of the students taking the test in that category scored better than Oceanside students, the test results show.

Scores for students in the same category rose to the 26th percentile in ’99 and to the 32nd percentile this year, test results show. Math scores for the students in that grade went from the 21st percentile in 1998 to the 35th percentile in ’99 and to the 47th percentile this year.

Reading scores for English-proficient students in the second grade went from the 46th percentile in 1998 to the 57th percentile in ’99 and to the 63rd percentile this year, test results show. Their math scores went from the 50th percentile in 1998 to the 59th percentile in ’99 and to the 73rd percentile this year.

Improvements were more modest at other grades in the district, and slight declines were seen this year in a few subjects in the upper grades, test results show. The biggest decline among limited-English speakers was in 11th-grade math, which went from the 14th percentile in 1998 to the 25th percentile in ’99, then fell to the 20th percentile this year.
English-proficient students showed a 4-point decline this year in the same category.

Prop. 227 is just one of the reasons for the improved scores, district spokeswoman Cindy Sabato said.

The school board and administrators have made a number of changes in policies and strategies since Noonan arrived in spring 1997, such as maximizing instruction time, eliminating classroom distractions and focusing basic academic skills, Sabato said.

Still, the district’s success has been mentioned in newspapers and magazines across the United States, especially in states such as Arizona, Colorado and New York ,where legislation similar to Prop. 227 is being considered.

Noonan, a former bilingual teacher, went to a White House conference in June on Latino education, where he talked about the initiative’s success.

The second year of positive test results shows the district’s improvements are more than a fluke, Noonan said Tuesday.

“It’s very encouraging that this actually may be the beginning of a trend,”
he said. “It’s an indication that what we are doing is good for kids. It’s working, and that’s what we want.”

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