No one disputes the rise in students’ test scores since Californians voted in 1998 to move toward English-only instruction.

But many dispute whether the vote made a difference.

Statewide, scores jumped 2 percent to 7 percent in all grades and in all subjects among students who speak little English.

But Stanford 9 rankings increased for students enrolled in both bilingual education and the structured English immersion method that Californians voted to impose in Proposition 227.

Scores rose for native-English speakers, too, said Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford University education professor who has conducted nationwide analyses of programs for limited-English students.

“At present, there is no scientifically defensible way to compare districts that have implemented 227 and those that have maintained bilingual programs. Both show positive changes, especially in second grade,” Hakuta wrote in an analysis of the test scores.

He concluded: “Any claim that Proposition 227 worked is bunk.”

Jill Kerper Mora, a teacher-education professor at San Diego State University, said changes were too small to be significant.

Still, Oceanside Unified School District, which has followed the letter of the new law more closely than any other district, fared poorer than a nearby district with bilingual education. Plus, Oceanside’s limited-English speakers scored lower than the state average for these students.

“There are so many variables going on, rarely do any programs show results in the first year,” Mora said.

Districts need to wait three to five years to see results.

Bilingual education foes, however, are ready to call the proposition a success.

A national bilingual education reform organization found in an analysis that districts with structured English immersion bounced higher than those with bilingual education.

“In the end, contrary to the gloom-and-doom predictions of bilingual education supporters, English immersion — to say the least — is not the disaster they predicted,” wrote Jorge Amselle, executive director of the READ Institute, or Research in English Acquisition and Development.

Ron Unz, Proposition 227’s author and politician, declared victory for English immersion after just one year. Forecasts that students would fail en masse have proved wrong.

“If it wasn’t Proposition 227, what in the world was it?” Unz said.

Bilingual education supporters are faced with trying to “explain away” the gains, Unz said, because scores didn’t plummet like they expected.

“They don’t have a leg to stand on. They are just making up all these things.”

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