Less than one year after San Francisco school administrators admitted placing disproportionate numbers of black children in bilingual classes, the school district defended its actions yesterday by claiming that students in the special classes improve at about the same rate as other pupils.

Nearly half of the 5,572 children enrolled in elementary bilingual classes are native English speakers. Among them, there are more than twice as many black students as white, although blacks make up only 20 percent of elementary school students.

”Placing students in bilingual classes does not seem educationally deleterious,” said the five-page report, which compared the test scores of students in bilingual and regular classes over the past two years.

The report showed that from 1990 through 1991, elementary students improved their scores in reading and language regardless of whether they were in bilingual or regular classes.

However, math scores of students in bilingual classes dropped significantly during the two years. The report acknowledges this but dismisses its importance.

”Math achievement in bilingual classes is not on a par with math achievement in nonbilingual classes. However, the (Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills) does not measure the benefits of cultural diversity and language plurality experienced in bilingual classes,” according to the report.

The reason so many black children are placed in the bilingual classes in the first place remains unclear because the report, presented to educators at the annual conference of the California Association for Bilingual Education, gave incorrect information. It said that schools are ”legally mandated” to assign English and non-English speakers to bilingual classes. But the state law requiring that blend expired in 1987.

The report also said that federal law requires integrated classes. But in San Francisco, as long as bilingual students spend 25 percent of the day mingling with native speakers, that rule is met.

Ligaya Avenida, the district’s bilingual director, admitted that the report was in error, but said that a previous practice of assigning black students to bilingual classes without parental permission had been corrected.

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