SAVVY educators and politicians have figured out a way to make academic test scores soar. It actually saves a little money. It doesn’t require any heavy lifting. It pleases many constituents. Too bad it doesn’t reflect an increase in student learning.
It’s simple too: Test fewer students who would perform poorly and your state’s academic test scores will rise.
San Francisco schools have been testing fewer pupils annually for the past few years. Connecticut shaved the number of students it tested in a 1998 national reading test by 10 percent. Presto, change-o, its average score rose by 10 percent.
This month, California boldly stepped into the game when the Assembly approved a bill — in a 53-19 vote — by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, to exempt Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students from the state STAR test, which is supposed to be given to all students in grades 2-11. Migden’s bill alternatively would mandate some kind of testing of these students in their native languages. Currently there is only a Spanish version of the STAR test.
Migden argues that it is cruel to test LEP kids in English. “It’s a demoralizing and costly exercise,” she said. And: “You and I couldn’t take a test in Cantonese tomorrow, could we?”
Well, we could take it. I’d flunk and I wouldn’t enjoy it. Then again, I haven’t spent kindergarten, the first grade and part of the second grade in classrooms where I’m supposed to learn Cantonese.
Non-native English speakers who start school in the first grade should have had English instruction for almost two years — years when children sop up language — before they take the test. So it’s not as if the test is imposed on students with no training in English.
Yes, but what about students who, say, enter the seventh grade having just arrived from Nicaragua? It would be nice to exempt those students for a year maybe. Except for one thing. Low-achieving districts already don’t test the number of students they should. Oakland Unified, for example, failed to test some 5,700 students out of 42,105 last year.
When former Governor Pete Wilson pushed the STAR test into being, anti-test types fought to exempt all LEP students from taking the test. Then the anti-testers fought to keep LEP students’ scores from being released. They eventually found a new way to crunch the numbers that puts the numbers in a better light. The state will release scores for non-LEP students, and separately provide averages with LEP students.
The fight against testing LEP students began before the passage of Proposition 227, which mandated English immersion classes for most non-native English speakers. Since voters approved Prop. 227, English testing of LEP students is more important than ever. As Wilson said last week, “Basically this is a debate about 227.”
Migden and state schools chief Delaine Eastin opposed 227. Now they oppose testing that would give voters a clear indication of whether 227 is or isn’t working.
The people who wrote 227, on the other hand, welcome tests. English for the Children spokeswoman Sheri Annis noted, “The only logical reason to eliminate English language testing is to cover up defiance of the law or to cover up the positive results of 227.”
Migden thinks it’s wrong to test kids in a language they don’t understand. Wilson, who supported 227, thinks it’s wrong to not teach children English from Day One.
In passing 227, the voters were telling educators to teach children English quickly and mainstream most students within a year. Thus, there should be no two-year wait.
The Senate, or Governor Davis, should keep faith with the voters and kill this bill. It’s their job to see to the education of children, not the cover up of failure.