Bilingual Surprise In State Testing

Many native-English speakers outscored in S.F., San Jose

Achievement test scores from two of the Bay Area’s largest school districts reveal a surprising result: Graduates of bilingual education programs out- scored native English speakers in most subjects and in most grades.

In San Francisco and San Jose, students who completed bilingual education — a system of instruction outlawed last month by California voters — generally performed better than native English-speaking children in reading, math, language and spelling.

The results appeared on the state’s new Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) exam, a multiple-choice test that uses a 99-point scale. Third-graders who had graduated from bilingual classrooms in San Francisco, for example, scored 40 percentage points higher in math than their native English-speaking counterparts. On the language portion, bilingual fourth-graders scored 25 points higher than the natives. And in reading, eighth-grade bilingual grads outscored the natives by nine points — although their reading scores slipped behind in later grades.

Similar but less impressive differences showed up in San Jose. There, for example, fourth-grade bilingual graduates scored 19 points higher than natives in spelling. In the seventh grade, they outscored the natives by seven points in math.

Even Sean Walsh, spokesman for Governor Pete Wilson, who became one of the state’s harshest critics of bilingual education in the weeks before the June 3 election, raised his eyebrows.

“It’s remarkable,” he said.

Lest the observation be interpreted as an endorsement of bilingual education, Walsh pointed out that Wilson all along has looked to the new state test as a way to tell what works and what doesn’t in public education.

“The governor has never been flatly against programs designed to help kids transition into English,” Walsh said.

The surprising trend was reversed in San Jose high schools, where the scores of bilingual education graduates slipped one to 16 points behind those of native English speakers. Even those lower scores, however, generally hovered around the national average of 50 points.

Not so surprising were the politics coloring the explanations for the overall performance of the bilingual graduates.

Ron Unz, author of the recently passed Proposition 227 that outlawed bilingual education, declared the phenomenon “very simple” to explain.

“You’d expect it,” he said. “You’re basically comparing the smartest (nonnative speakers) with the average population of regular students.”

Doug Stone, spokesman for state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, said the nonnatives are not smarter than other students, they’ve just paid more attention to grammar, spelling and overall academics in their attempts to learn a second language.

Independent testing expert Joan Herman, associate director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evaluation, called the results “very promising data” at a time when the bilingual education battle is not yet over.

Immigrant rights advocates, who call Proposition 227 unconstitutional, sued in federal court last month to have it overturned. A hearing is scheduled for July 15 in San Francisco.

The STAR test also sits at the center of the English-only debate. All test scores — for every school in all 999 districts across the state — were supposed to have been released no later than June 30.

But the Oakland and Berkeley school districts won a Superior Court injunction prohibiting state officials from releasing the scores because they included the scores of thousands of children who speak little or no English. The educators say the results are invalid because the students had to take the test in a language they did not understand.

The group in question does not include the graduates of bilingual programs, who speak English.

State law required all students in grades 2 through 11 to take the STAR test in English this spring, whether they understood the language or not.

A hearing is scheduled in San Francisco Superior Court July 16.

Yesterday, lawyers for the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education said they have taken the matter to the state Supreme Court to try and reverse the injunction.

Meanwhile, school districts have been releasing test scores on their own — some with the scores of non-English-speakers, and some without.

San Jose released its non-English-speaking students’ scores yesterday. But these contained no surprises.

CHART:

COMPARISON OF SAN FRANCISCO AND SAN JOSE STAR TEST RESULTS

Here are districtwide results for two of the Bay Area’s largest urban school districts. The Standardized Testing &

Reporting (STAR) exam was taken in the spring by more than 4 million students in grades 2 to 11. The multiple-choice test is scored on a 99-point scale, with a national average of 50.

  SAN FRANCISCO	  .	    Grade 2	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       49       50       47	  Bilingual students            58       65       60	  Bilingual ed. graduates       75       87       80	  .	    Grade 3	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       43       44       44	  Bilingual students            54       64       57	  Bilingual ed. graduates       60       84       74	  .	    Grade 4	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       49       42       48	  Bilingual students            56       56       58	  Bilingual ed. graduates       66       79       73	  .	   Grade 5	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       51       51       50	  Bilingual students            58       66       61	  Bilingual ed. graduates       62       80       71	  .	   Grade 6	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       47       50       47	  Bilingual tudents             53       63       57	  Bilingual ed. graduates       58       79       64	  .	  Grade 7	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       47       49       55	  Bilingual students            59       66       67	  Bilingual ed. graduates       63       78       71	  .	    Grade 8	                              Reading   Math     Lang.	  Native English speakers       47       46       48	  Bilingual students            63       66       66	  Bilingual ed. graduates       56       71       61	  .	    Grade 9	                              Reading   Math     Lang.    S.S.(x)  Sci.	  Native English speakers       50       64       61       54       50	  Bilingual students            56       72       66       58       56	  Bilingual ed. graduates       44       74       63       52       53	  .	    Grade 10	                              Reading   Math     Lang.    S.S.(x)  Sci.	  Native English speakers       49       55       54       50       53	  Bilingual students            51       62       57       51       56	  Bilingual ed. graduates       38       65       49       44       49	  .	    Grade 11	                              Reading   Math     Lang.    S.S.(x)  Sci.	  Native English speakers       56       64       64       67       54	  Bilingual students            61       73       68       72       62	  Bilingual ed. graduates       46       74       59       66       54	  ———————————————–	

SAN JOSE . Grade 2 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 53 48 53 Bilingual students 51 54 50 Bilingual ed. graduates — — — . Grade 3 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 57 52 54 Bilingual students 54 57 56 Bilingual ed. graduates 61 76 65 . Grade 4 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 58 51 57 Bilingual students 61 57 61 Bilingual ed. graduates 64 69 67 . Grade 5 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 59 51 59 Bilingual students 56 56 63 Bilingual ed. graduates 65 68 69 . Grade 6 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 58 55 55 Bilingual students 59 65 60 Bilingual ed. graduates 58 62 63 . Grade 7 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 59 54 61 Bilingual students 59 61 66 Bilingual ed. graduates 55 61 62 . Grade 8 Reading Math Lang. Native English speakers 57 53 56 Bilingual students 63 68 65 Bilingual ed. graduates 53 52 54 . Grade 9 Reading Math Lang. S.S.(x) Sci. Native English speakers 52 64 60 59 54 Bilingual students 50 67 64 60 56 Bilingual ed. graduates 42 60 58 54 48 . Grade 10 Reading Math Lang. S.S.(x) Sci. Native English speakers 47 51 52 54 54 Bilingual students 50 59 58 55 54 Bilingual ed. graduates 37 48 43 42 47 . Grade 11 Reading Math Lang. S.S.(x) Sci. Native English speakers 57 60 61 74 59 Bilingual students 52 63 62 74 54 Bilingual ed. graduates 38 53 45 62 44 . (x) – S.S. represents the subject social studies Source: San Francisco Unified School District and San Jose Unified School District CHRONICLE GRAPHIC

(x) – S.S. represents the subject social studies

Source: San Francisco Unified School District and San Jose Unified School District

CHRONICLE GRAPHIC



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