Prop. 227's effect on scores unclear

Test problems, smaller classes and other factors make it difficult to measure the impact of erasing bilingual education.

Taxpayers and educators eager to use Stanford 9 scores to gauge the effects of Prop. 227 on students not fluent in English will be hard-pressed to make concrete conclusions this year.

Although the state’s students who are still learning English made some gains, educators say it would be tough to attribute their progress to the new state law that was designed to eradicate bilingual education in California.

For one thing, results are skewed by the possibility that hundreds of thousands of scores for students still learning English are not labeled correctly. And even if they were, it would be nearly impossible to factor out the influence of other changes, such as smaller class sizes and new reading programs.

“It’s hard to glean any real conclusion on Prop. 227 in the first year from these scores,” said state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin. “They are moving up but moving up with the rest of students in California. It’s really too early for people to either celebrate or throw stones.”

Eastin said the improvements mirrored those made by the rest of the state’s students.

However, when compared to fluent-English speakers, the improvement was much less. For example, the percentage of nonfluent second-graders who scored at or above the national average in reading went from 15 percent to 19 percent,
while the percentage of fluent-English speakers in the same category went from 48 percent to 56 percent.

A smaller percentage of English learners in Riverside and San Bernardino counties scored at or above the national average when compared to peers statewide.

Ron Unz, author of Prop. 227, said the test results show that limited-English students are performing better under Prop. 227, which required that students be taught “overwhelmingly in English.” Unz also said Eastin is downplaying the gains made by the English learners statewide.

Thomas Saenz, Southern California regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, disagreed. He said the standardized test is not designed to measure a student’s English language skills.

“The kids in bilingual education programs are showing similar gains as LEP
(limited English proficient) students in other programs,” he said. `So you can’t tell what it is that’s affecting those gains.”

The much-anticipated release of this year’s Stanford 9 scores was delayed several times because of a string of errors. The most recent glitch makes year-to-year comparisons for English learners difficult.

Harcourt Education Measurement, the Texas-based testing company, said scores of 419,550 students were not marked by school districts as either fluent in English or English learners but were still factored into the overall average. The problem probably will not be addressed for another month.

That concern is compounded by a similar reporting error last year.

Gerry Shelton, administrator of the Measurement and Reporting Office for the state Education Department, said that about 17 percent of the 1998 results also had no designation listed for language. He said a high number of those were probably English learners’ tests. But those scores were included with English-speaking scores, resulting in a serious undercounting of last year’s English learners, he said.

“If you are comparing the group this year, it is not the same as last year,”
he said. “Inferences should not be made at the risk of being wrong.”

Norm Gold, manager of language proficiency and academic accountability for the state Education Department, said the only way to accurately measure whether the state’s move to more English instruction is helping children is to commission a detailed study that includes several measures of student performance, like classwork, grades and test scores. The likelihood of that happening are remote.

“No one seems to want to invest in actual research,” he said.

Complete school-by-school results are available on the Internet at

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