English-speaking pupils in middle of testing pack

Although California’s public school students came in below national averages on statewide achievement tests this year, a new breakout of the 1999 results showed English-speaking children tended to score at or above that crucial midway point. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin touted the above-average scores for English-speaking children on Thursday during the release of corrected statewide Stanford 9 test results for local schools, districts and counties. The newly released figures showed the state’s non-English-speaking students performing well below national averages.

The new results were posted on the Internet late Thursday afternoon after a three-week delay in the release of the scores.

This year’s test results mark the second year the state has given the Stanford 9, a standardized multiple-choice test produced by a San Antonio publishing firm, Harcourt Educational Management.

Ordinarily, the publisher of a standardized exam receives only scant attention when test scores get released. But in this case, Harcourt has been in the news repeatedly over the past several weeks because of scoring errors and delays by the company that have marred the long-awaited release of this year’s results.

In one instance, the publishing firm made a mistake in reporting scores for thousands of students with limited English skills. In another, Harcourt made further scoring errors for students in 44 districts with year-round schools.

As late as Thursday, three California districts, including Long Beach, were still disputing the accuracy of their school scores, resulting in the data being posted on the Internet hours after its promised 10 a.m. arrival. People can pull up individual school and district results from the department’s Web site athttp://star.cde.ca.gov/

The scores are especially significant this year because the state will be using them to single out low-performing schools in need of intervention as part of the state’s new accountability system.

Eastin had released a limited set of overall statewide results on June 30. Those scores showed California’s public school students, on average, showed modest improvements in math, reading and other subjects, but still fell below the nation’s 50th percentile in nearly all categories. The largest gains came in the elementary grades, with achievement in the high school grades remaining flat or rising only slightly. The Stanford 9 tests were given to 4.3 million students in grades two through 11 this year.

On Thursday, Eastin touted the new breakout comparing the achievement of English-speaking youngsters with those who speak little or no English. The breakout showed that proficient English speakers scored, on average, at or above the nation’s 50th percentile in nearly all elementary grades in the four subjects tested: reading, math, language and and spelling. In contrast, students with limited English skills posted average scores as low as the 14th percentile nationally in the elementary grades. Similar disparities were evident in the high school grades.

Proponents of Proposition 227, a statewide ballot measure passed in 1998 that outlawed most bilingual education programs, pointed out that despite their lower scores, limited-English-speaking children still showed gains in their test results. Eastin, however, cautioned that it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the effects of the measure.

Statewide, 27 percent of students are classified as having little or no English skills. Eastin acknowledged that percentage may be somewhat inflated because some districts keep students classified as limited-English speakers long after they have learned English. The state, she said, does not have discretion over how children are categorized in terms of their language fluency; it is a matter of local control.

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