Orange County students posted gains on the state’s annual Spanish-language test, following a statewide trend — but concerns about the exam have led the California Board of Education to consider trying to eliminate it or make it optional, officials said Monday.

The board decided last week to evaluate the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education test, or SABE/2, and make a recommendation to the Legislature by 2002. Testing experts say it is difficult, if not impossible, to analyze the results because, unlike the English-language Stanford 9, the exam is administered inconsistently across the state.

The multiple-choice standardized test is mandatory for all Spanish-speaking students in grades 2-11 who still are learning English and have been in public schools for less than 12 months.

Teachers and parents may test other students, such as those who still are learning in both languages, but not all exercise that option.

“It’s hard to make comparisons,” said Robert Anderson, an administrator in the state testing office. “The (scores) would let a teacher know, for instance, if a Spanish-speaking student knew mathematics.

“But they might not provide accurate comparisons to anybody else. “

But some disapprove of limiting the test. Delaine Eastin, state superintendent of public instruction, said Monday the state should expand testing in Spanish to assess students’ abilities from year to year.

Parent Dora Villagomez of Santa Ana said she tracks her son Angel’s progress on the SABE/2 and the state-mandated Stanford 9, which is given in English to all California students each spring.

“Both tests are important to me because I want to know how they’re doing in both languages,” Villagomez said.

Statewide, nearly 116,000 students took the multiple-choice SABE/2 test this spring in language, math and reading, compared with more than 120,000 students who took it last year. Students in grades 2-8 also are tested in spelling.

In Orange County, nearly 7,000 students took the test, down slightly from last year. Almost all county scores were near or above the national average although the scores lagged slightly behind the state average

The number of students tested varied widely by district, from just a handful to more than 3,600 in Santa Ana, the district with the largest number of test takers. Six additional districts tested more than 200 students — Anaheim elementary and high school districts; Capistrano, Garden Grove, Orange and Newport-Mesa.

Placentia-Yorba Linda tested its students, but scores were unavailable Monday.

Orange Unified, which ended bilingual education before Proposition 227 took effect statewide in 1998, only tests those students required by law — about 200 this year. Every year, different students take the test, so the scores do not reflect the same group’s progress from year to year.

“I don’t think it tells us much of anything,” said Phil Morse, testing director in Orange Unified.

But in Santa Ana, which has scores of students in bilingual-education programs under waivers, an official said the scores show that students know more than other tests suggest.

“These numbers are wonderful,” said Howard Bryan, director of bilingual education in Santa Ana. “In English we’re scoring low, but the Spanish proves they’re capable. “

Testing experts caution that the SABE/2 and Stanford 9 are not necessarily comparable. Different publishers make them, and they may test different things.

Another caveat concerns the national norm with which the students scores are compared — some 9,000 native Spanish-speakers who took the test in the early 1990s. Unlike many California students now, those in the norm group had been taught to read in Spanish, according to the test publisher.

The scores are online at

Register staff writer Sarah Tully Tapia contributed to this story.

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