Ruling lets state release test data

Limited-English students lagging

Following a judge’s ruling, the state released test scores Tuesday evening showing that less than one-fifth of California’s limited-English-speaking students reached the national average in nearly all grades and subjects on a test given in English.

But the ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge David A. Garcia allows school districts to disregard the results of limited-English students who have been in California public schools less than 30 months, saying the state cannot force districts to place the scores in students’ permanent files or even send them home to their parents.

“The use of (the) test scores to make educational decisions about (limited-English-proficient) students is not only inappropriate, but harmful,” said Joseph Jaramillo, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which successfully sought the preliminary injunction, along with Oakland and Berkeley schools.

Garcia’s ruling allowed the state to release data showing the achievement of both limited-English students and all students on the Stanford Achievement Test, Ninth Edition, the first statewide test in four years and the first ever to compare California’s students to the nation. Any scores that included limited-English students had been barred from publication by a restraining order from another judge.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased we can release the data, but we’re saddened because what the court did was fail to protect the rights of parents to obtain that data” about their children, said Rae Belisle, attorney for the California State Board of Education. “We think they have the right to know.”

Prior to Garcia’s ruling, legal tie-ups had limited the state to releasing only statewide averages for students fluent in English. Those scores showed that a majority of those students failed to reach the national average in most grades and subjects, but that nearly half hit where kids who have limited English proficiency have been relegated to a substandard education,” he said.

The voter-approved Proposition 227, which was upheld by the courts last week, is an opportunity for the state to better serve these children, Lucia said. The initiative requires that limited-English students be taught “overwhelmingly in English,” normally for a year, before being mainstreamed into regular classrooms, unless a parent seeks a waiver to place a child in a different program.

California has about 1.38 million students who are not fluent in English, about one-fourth of the public school enrollment. By comparison, the sample used to set the achievement test’s national average included only 1.8 percent limited-English students.

Statewide, more than 4.1 million second- through 11th-graders were given the multiple-choice achievement test this spring. Nearly 800,000 are considered limited in English, though there is no uniform, statewide criteria for such a designation.

Gov. Pete Wilson was successful last year in convincing the Legislature that the test should be given in English to all students, despite the objections of educators, including Eastin.

San Francisco schools sued and won an exemption from testing limited-English students who had been in school less than 30 months, a cutoff used on previous state tests. Berkeley and Oakland schools later joined the suit, arguing that the scores are invalid and should not be used by schools.

The preliminary injunction granted by Garcia — which will remain in place until a final judgment is reached — bars the state from requiring districts to place the test scores in permanent files of limited-English students who have been in California schools less than 30 months; to report or transmit those individual students’ scores to their schools or teachers; to give those scores to parents; or to make any academic decision on a student in reliance of those scores. But the ruling does not prevent districts from using or releasing the data.

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jim Sweeney said the ruling will have little impact on his district, which counts more than 15,000 limited-English students, about 30 percent of total enrollment.

“I’ve never been in that camp that says we don’t need to know what their scores are. We’ve already sent the scores home, and so have a lot of other schools,” Sweeney said.

He said the district probably will put the scores in the students’ permanent files with other data that help track academic progress.

The group scores released Tuesday by the Department of Education are available on the department’s Web site, at

On Thursday, The Bee will publish a ranking of school performance in the four-county Sacramento region and a district-by-district comparison of scores.

Bee staff writer Jon Engellenner contributed to this report.

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