County's English learners improve their scores

Educators say the test helps them determine areas in which students need help.

Orange County students still learning English improved on the Stanford 9 this year, but still lagged behind their English-speaking peers.

Educators say they are heartened by the gains English learners have made since 1998, when voters passed a proposition eliminating bilingual education except for those who choose it. But they caution that the Stanford 9 doesn’t measure students’ knowledge of English, but compares children with a national sample of students — among whom only 1.8 percent are learning English. About 28 percent of Orange County test-takers are still learning English.

I’m not going to say this is a great test for English-language learners, but we can gain information about how we are doing,” said Pam Ellis, Anaheim City’s program- evaluation director.

Countywide, English learners enrolled less than a year have percentile rankings in the single digits in reading in most grades, compared with between the 10th and 34th percentile for those in school longer. English-language learners score in the 20th and 30th percentiles, compared with fluent English speakers, who are above the national average in all areas.

Districts like Anaheim, where 60 percent of students are learning English, use the scores to compare individual students’ annual progress. Teachers also check on students classified as fluent to see if they are keeping up.

It would have no meaning unless you knew how many of the kids are new … or just moved in,” said Howard Bryan, Santa Ana’s director of English-language development.

In Orange County, 8,471 students also took the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education, or SABE/2, required for Spanish-speaking children who have attended public schools for less than a year and optional for others. They scored above the national average in most areas and hovered at the state average.

The Spanish test, SABE, is less useful in tracking progress because new students take it each year. Plus, some students have never taken classes in their native language, so they don’t know, for example, math terms in Spanish.

Most districts use the results to check students’ academic levels when they arrive and compare results with the Stanford 9. Santa Ana also uses results to see if students are gifted.

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