ENCINITAS —- A group from Capri Elementary is set to appear before the state Board of Education in Sacramento on Wednesday to protest a change in policy it says cheated the school out of $30,000 in state funds.

Principal Tim Reeve, two teachers and a parent are the group scheduled to make the trip, said Mary Vahalla, a member of the Capri PTA’s board of directors.

The state Department of Education has disqualified both Capri and Paul Ecke-Central schools from receiving state awards money of roughly $30,000 each for improved student test scores.

The two Encinitas schools are the only schools in North County to have been disqualified. The school board will vote Tuesday on whether to appeal the disqualification.

The disqualification came after the state Board of Education set a policy in January that denies awards to schools where more than 15 percent of eligible students did not take the Stanford Achievement Test-Ninth Edition nearly a year ago.

At Capri and Paul Ecke-Central, parents excused 123 students from taking the so-called SAT-9 in April and May 2000.

Those students amounted to more than 15 percent of the total enrollment at Capri and more than 21 percent at Paul Ecke-Central.

But adopting the 15 percent policy months after the tests were taken was unfair, charged Doug DeVore, the superintendent of the Encinitas school district.

The state “changed the rules after the game was played,” he said.

After all, state officials wrote a law that said parents could excuse their children from taking the SAT-9, he said.

“Now they’re turning around and saying if you do, we’re going to deny you the chance to get at this big pot of honey,” DeVore said.

Last month, the state board revisited the issue and set an even stricter threshold.

For tests that will be given this spring, the latest policy states that schools will lose their eligibility for reward money if more than 10 percent of students don’t take the SAT-9.

“In schools with more than 10 percent of kids waiving (the test),” said Reed Hastings, the president of the state Board of Education, “we have no assurance that the remaining kids are representative of the general school body and thus the fixed pot of rewards money is directed to other schools.

“However, if a school has (more than) 10 percent parental waivers, and they can demonstrate the kids remaining are representative of the whole, the state board can include them,” Hastings said Friday.

Statewide, only 1.2 percent of students were excused by their parents from taking the SAT-9 last year, Hastings said.

Some parents opted for test in Spanish

At Capri and Paul Ecke-Central, teachers say they tested all their students. But those students who received instruction in Spanish took a test in Spanish, the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education/2 —- commonly called the SABE.

The Encinitas Union School District, like some other districts, uses the SABE to evaluate its bilingual program.

School officials told parents last year that students in the bilingual programs would take both the SABE and SAT-9 tests, unless parents chose just one test.

Some Encinitas parents and school officials say the SABE is the best test to measure learning by students whose first language is Spanish. The SAT-9 would be the wrong test, they argue.

“You don’t test a kid in French when his instruction is in English,” said Sally Russell, a first-grade teacher at Capri.

So, beyond the debate over the fairness of the state’s 15 percent policy change, some parents, educators and activists have a second complaint. They say that if the state provides the SABE, it should use it in the awards program.

“I don’t understand why the state gives you an option,” said Capri parent Pablo Gomez, “and then says one test doesn’t count.”

“There’s no educational justification whatsoever for requiring children who are receiving instruction in Spanish to take a test in English,” said Mary Hernandez, a staff attorney in the San Francisco office of the nationwide Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy group. “If their performance is being measured, they should not be penalized.”

What’s more, a parent’s right to excuse a child from testing is meaningless if the state penalizes the parent for exercising that right, she said.

State officials encourage SAT-9

But state officials say requiring students still learning English to take the SAT-9 is not a penalty.

Rather, taking the SAT-9 can be a boost, said Pat McCabe, a manager in the Department of Education’s policy and evaluation division.

Those students will see their scores improve as they become more fluent in English, and the schools they attend will get award money.

“Schools with the highest percentages of English-language learners met their targets (to get award money) more often than schools with low percentages of English-language learners,” McCabe said. “The students gain more knowledge in English and are able to demonstrate that faster.”

But some parents don’t see the benefits to their children and say more than one Encinitas child has been driven to tears by the SAT-9.

“Why would I put my child into a situation like that?” Gomez said.

Test in Spanish is different

The Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 established the statewide cash awards system. The SAT-9, given to second- through 11th-graders, is the anchor to the high stakes program.

SABE scores have never been included in the awards calculations.

“You just can’t substitute the SABE for the SAT-9,” McCabe said. “A score on one would not be representative of a score on the other.”

The SABE is only required for first-year-in-district Latino students, said Hastings, the state Board of Education president.

“From then on, SAT-9 is the requirement,” he said.

And Encinitas school officials say they knew the SABE scores were not included in the awards program. That didn’t matter, though, until January, when the 15 percent threshold was set.

Parents wrote letters

Both Capri and Paul Ecke-Central have high numbers of students in bilingual classes.

Parents of most of those children asked the schools not to give their children the SAT-9. Some specifically said they wanted their children tested in Spanish.

The North County Times obtained copies of the 123 letters sent by parents, with 107 written in Spanish, excusing their children from the SAT-9.

Forty-eight letters specifically asked the schools to test their children in Spanish.

Records show the district administered the SABE to 65 children at Capri and 54 children at Paul Ecke-Central.

In Sacramento, McCabe said the school district was never required to tell parents their children could skip the SAT-9.

That statement angered DeVore.

“That would be hiding information from them and that is unethical,” DeVore said.

In retrospect, DeVore would have done nothing different had he known the 15 percent threshold would be established, he said.

“I don’t believe in testing kids for awards,” he said. “If that’s all we were doing, I would be sick.”

Capri parent Gomez, who runs a flower business, said he discussed testing with his daughter last spring.

“I asked her how she felt about it,” Gomez said. “She said she wanted to take the SABE. This year she wants to take both.”

Gomez, the president of Capri’s English Learner’s Advisory Council, said that before testing last year, a discussion of parents’ options was the topic of a Noche para la Familia (Family Night) meeting.

“I asked my girl which test she wanted to take,” said David Atempa, a landscaper and Paul Ecke-Central parent. “She said the one in Spanish.”

Contact staff writer Adam Kaye at (760) 943-2312 or [email protected].

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