Bilingual pupils fare worse 1,000 fourth-graders take version of test in Spanish

How are kids supposed to learn English when they can’t even read and write proficiently in Spanish?

That is the question some proponents of bilingual education are asking after reviewing the scores of the 1,000 or so Colorado fourth-graders who took a Spanish version of the Colorado Student Assessment. About 500 of the students are in Denver Public Schools.

The results were surprisingly disappointing, and even more revealing, the bilingual advocates said.

In the reading category, only 22 percent were proficient or better. The writing results were even worse: only 11 percent were deemed proficient. Worse yet: No students were advanced in writing in their native Spanish language.

The results clearly show the need for bilingual education – and the need to give students unlimited instruction in their native language, some said.

That has been a topic of contention for DPS, which is battling the federal government over the implementation of its bilingual education plan. The Denver school board has proposed transitioning students into mainstream classes after three years, but the federal government and local Hispanic organizations want them to get even more Spanish-language instruction.

“There is a critical situation that exists in the state of Colorado and that is the inadequate educating of limited English-proficient students,” said Lorenzo Trujillo, president of Associated Directors of Bilingual Education in Denver. “This is just another manifestation of that.”

Said Ramon Del Castillo, co-chairman of the Latino Education Coalition: “Now we have children illiterate in two languages

“This data support the notion that teaching in the mother tongue from two to five to seven years is important. But at the same time, give them a supplement in the English language,” said Del Castillo, a Chicano studies teacher at Metropolitan State College.

Others, though, including Gov. Roy Romer, were surprised that the state test was given in Spanish.

“What we’re trying to do is teach proficiency in English,” Romer said. “We need to test them in English because that is what the standard is.”

Added DPS Superintendent Irv Moskowitz: “Let’s focus on the language they are going to need to be successful.”

Only students who did not know any English were given the test in Spanish. Even then, not everyone got to take it. Although 2,000 Spanish versions were requested, some teachers decided that about half the students were qualified to take the English version, officials said.

The Spanish test used in Colorado was a version of a test previously used nationally – not a Spanish translation of the Colorado State Assessment that more than 50,000 fourth-graders took in English.

A Spanish translation of the Colorado test will be given next year, said Don Watson, acting director of student assessment for the Colorado Department of Education.

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