Educators see several factors in test gains

SANTA ANA — Everyone wants to look good when it comes to test scores.

Proponents of Proposition 227 are quick to attribute the overall rise in this year’s Stanford 9 test scores to the new law, which requires almost all instruction to be in English.

Opponents of Prop. 227 have deemed the data “coincidental” and not “scientific” in regards to the effectiveness of language programs. They argue that the improved scores are the fruits of class-size reduction, teacher focus on test-taking skills, and fear motivated by intense political scrutiny.

While politicians drum up details to fit their cause, some teachers and principals of two Santa Ana schools say 227’s impact defied predictions by those on either side of the issue.

“I can think of plenty of reasons why we did better this year — none of which has to do with 227,” said Marti Baker, principal at Madison Elementary, where all but about 30 students switched from bilingual education to English immersion after the new law was implemented last October.

Baker says the school determined four years ago to make learning English a top priority. Even through bilingual programs, Baker said, teachers were introducing English at a much more rapid rate — with kids doing homework and reading in English by the second grade.

Reinforcements also helped. A well-attended after-school program; tutors and mentors from the University of California, Irvine; book and homework clubs; intersession classes — all extended teaching time and reinforced Santa Ana Unified’s “Above the Mean” emphasis on math and reading.

Madison third-grade teacher Deborah Renne says test preparation was integrated into daily lessons both through the district’s McGraw-Hill reading series — where worksheets ask kids to answer multiple-choice questions about main characters and themes — and through specially designed test kits that provide teachers with test practice sheets and strategy tips.

“Format is really important,” said Renne, an 18-year teaching veteran. “Kids felt safe and comfortable taking the test this time around. They weren’t thrown off by the questions.”

At Heninger Elementary, where more than 50 percent of the kids in kindergarten through second grade got parental waivers requesting that they continue bilingual education, test scores among limited-English second-graders rose from the 15th to 32nd percentile in reading and the 26th to the 63rd percentile in math.

“We knew the eyes of the world would be on us because many of our parents kept their kids in bilingual education,” said Kathy Sabine, Heninger principal. “Because of 227, we have introduced English to kids as soon as they are able to decode a word in Spanish.”

Heninger bilingual teacher Shannon Cheatley says the earlier introduction to English vocabulary, the quicker push to teach English reading, and reduced time in Spanish helped boost scores.

“We use Spanish mainly for comprehension,” said Cheatley, “If a student doesn’t understand something in English, I repeat it in Spanish. With real little kids, it’s important for them to know they can communicate in Spanish. It makes them more comfortable.”

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