For Santa Ana, Only Small Gains

Stanford 9 scores again are low, though some modest improvements are seen. One trustee blames bilingual education.

Any way the numbers on the Stanford 9 exam are sliced, they show the Santa Ana schools lagging behind. And while teachers in the district’s year-round schools worked Tuesday to teach new concepts, one board member wondered whether more English-immersion classes would help boost scores.

The average third-grader in the Santa Ana Unified School District did worse on the reading section of the Stanford 9 exam than 76% of a national comparison group. And only 14% of the third-graders’ scores reached the national average on that section of the standardized test.

For students in all grades combined, about 27% performed at or above the national mean, a figure lower than the 31% posted by the troubled Los Angeles Unified School District.

The lowest Stanford 9 scores typically are found in schools with large numbers of students who are not fluent in English. In Santa Ana, 60% of the students fit that description.

“If the test is going to be around, we’re going to join the program,” Walker Elementary Principal Robert DeBerry said. “I don’t think . . . it’s a negative thing at all. It allows us to know what needs to be done.”

Santa Ana elementary schools have homed in on language and math, teaching other subjects such as science and social studies as reading comprehension lessons.

And the efforts seem to be producing steady improvements: The percentage of students in the district scoring at or above the national average has grown in small increments since 1998, the first year the test was administered.

Walker, a school where 84% of students are not fluent in English and 14 portable classrooms accommodate a growing student population, has also shown steady improvement. The percentage of students at the school who scored at or above the national mean on the Stanford 9 increased from 25% last year to 29% this year.

“You have the kids you have, and there’s nothing you can do about that,” said Judy Dutenhoefer, a third-grade teacher at Walker. “You do the best you can and try to keep the students from getting frustrated.”

About half of the limited-English students at Walker are taught in English-immersion classes, the standard created by Proposition 227 in 1998. But the other half are taught in their native language, under waivers requested by their parents and allowed by the statewide proposition. Those students make a transition to English classes in the second or third grade, Assistant Principal Yvonne Estling said.

Santa Ana school board member Rosemarie Avila said she believes the district’s low scores have less to do with demographics than with its bilingual education programs. Students should learn English right away in immersion programs, she said.

“I think we’re going to continue to score low until we get rid of bilingual education,” she said. “This is an English test.”

Other schools in inner-city areas with high immigrant populations, such as Inglewood, have raised their scores, Avila said.

But Audrey Yamagata-Noji, another board member, said many other factors affect the district’s scores, including poverty, a high number of teachers on emergency credentials, and students who come from homes where English is not spoken.

“To say the scores are because of bilingual programs is really inaccurate,” Yamagata-Noji said.

In any case, students in the district still have a long way to go before a majority of them are performing at the national average on the test.

Of the 20 students in her class last year, only two were reading at grade level. Since the questions on the Stanford 9 assume a student reads at grade level, how can children still growing accustomed to English understand what answer they should be looking for, she asked.

“They’re frustrated with the test , because it’s very much geared to an English-speaking child,” Dutenhoefer said. “They get tired and frustrated and stop answering the questions.”

Dutenhoefer said she could tell some students were simply filling in the blanks at random on their answer sheets when she gave the test during the spring.

She is already working with her new group of third-graders on skills that are tested on the standardized exam. Classes at the year-round school began July 6, and students spent part of Tuesday fashioning sentences with homonyms, such as, “The air blew the blue paper.”

The average scores of limited-English students will not be released by the state until next month.

About 4.3 million public school students in grades two through 11 took the Stanford 9 this year. The test is supposed to measure knowledge of basic topics, such as reading, math, language, science and social science, depending on the grade level. Students’ scores are compared with a national pool of test takers.

Individual school districts began receiving their test results in April, and the state Department of Education released scores for all districts Monday. They are available on the Internet at

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