English Fluency High For Students

In SLO county, only 1 in 8 scored high enough

Nearly a quarter of California public school students who are learning English scored high enough on a new test to be deemed fluent, results show.

State scores were higher than in San Luis Obispo County, where one in eight students taking the test scored fluent in the advanced or early advanced range.

Designed to measure post-bilingual education efforts, the California English Language Development Test showed that students in English immersion programs were nearly three times as likely to be considered fluent as students in bilingual programs. However, in releasing the test results Tuesday, education officials cautioned against reclassifying students as fluent too quickly, lest they struggle academically.

Another challenge interpreting the results is that students of wide-ranging skills are lumped together in combined scores, said Fran Long, who coordinates English instruction for non-native speakers at Paso Robles Public Schools. Scores from students who have been in the district three days will be averaged in with students with five years experience.

Statewide, 63 percent of students taking the test were classified as early intermediate or intermediate, compared to 43.8 percent in San Luis Obispo County, and 12 percent statewide were classified as having beginning proficiency, compared to 42.8 percent of local students.

For a more detailed look at local scores, see the county section of the state Web site (http://

Long expects the test will be more useful tracking progress of individual students over time.

“If we wanted to look at how successful are we at teaching English, we would look at students who have been here three to five years,” she said. Over such a time period, “we should see those kids’ scores going up.”

Because this was the first year of the test, which 1.6 million students took last year, it provided limited information about how quickly students are acquiring English skills, education officials said. The scores also do not reflect how long students had been in each program before taking the test.

“It will allow us to see if our programs are improving or getting worse, and it will allow us to learn from each other,” said Robert Fraisse, superintendent of the Hueneme Elementary School District in Ventura County.

The lack of English skills is a major factor in low standardized test scores for many California schoolchildren.

Ron Unz, author of Proposition 227, which curtailed bilingual education in the state, said the numbers show that schools are penalizing students by holding them back in bilingual classes when they should be promoted into regular classes.

Only 9 percent of English learners graduate to mainstream settings each year — far lower than the 24 percent who scored high enough to do so.

State and local education officials said that the test measures English proficiency but should not be construed as the sole indicator of how those learning English will perform in regular classrooms.

The exam tests abilities in listening, speaking, reading and writing English.

— Tribune reporter Jeff Ballinger contributed to this story.

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