Test Scores May Evaluate 227

Schools: Critics see pitfalls to linking English progress, test

The Stanford 9 test results that are being released today won’t just show how California’s schoolchildren stack up academically against students in the rest of the nation. They also may provide a measuring stick for the effectiveness of English-only instruction under Proposition 227.

That proposition, which was passed last June by 61 percent of the voters, essentially eliminated the bilingual education system. Under that educational approach, non-English-speaking pupils were taught academic subjects in their native tongue while slowly being taught English. Proponents of English-only education say they expect the test results to show that limitedEnglish students are performing better under Proposition 227.

The proposition’s opponents, however, say the Stanford 9 test is not meant totest a student’s English language skills and won’t be an accurate gauge of 227’seffectiveness.

Contending that some limitedEnglish pupils spent too many years in bilingual classes without learning English, Proposition 227’s architects demanded that school districts scrap bilingual education in favor of an approach called sheltered English immersion. Sheltered English immersion teaches pupils mainly in English, with some help in their native tongue.

Proposition 227 requires children to be placed in a sheltered immersion program for a year. The focus of the program is to teach the English language. After a year, if the child is reasonably fluent, he or she is placed in mainstream English classes.

The 227 debate

The initiative was written by Ron Unz, a software entrepreneur in Northern California.

In a telephone interview, Unz said the Stanford 9, which was administered to many of the state’s 1.8 million English-language learners, will show which public school districts took the law seriously. The districts that adhered to the law should show more improvement than those who just added a little more English instruction time to bilingual classes and called that sheltered immersion, Unz said.

Proposition 227’s opponents, which include the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, said Unz is wrong to use the Stanford 9 as the sole measure of how districts complied with the law.

“You just can’t judge everything on that test,” said Theresa FayBustillos, vice president of MALDEF’s legal program.

Second- through eighth-graders were tested in reading, math, spelling and language comprehension. Ninth- through 11th-graders were tested in reading, math, spelling, language comprehension, science and social studies.

The Stanford 9 is not meant to specifically test a pupil’s English proficiency, Fay-Bustillos said, so it is not an accurate measure of the success of English immersion programs.

Other school reforms

Nor can Unz take credit for pupils’ progress from one year to another, Fay-Bustillos said. There have been many educational reforms lately, such as class-size reduction and reading initiatives, and all of them may have contributed to better test results.

Fay-Bustillos acknowledged that speaking more English in class increases language acquisition, but added that MALDEF is concerned about the long-term effects of sheltered English immersion. In many sheltered immersion programs, pupils are taking subjects like math, science and history, but the courses are simplified to match the pupils’ English ability. Dumbing down concepts may mean children aren’t getting a quality education, she said.

Those concerns prompted MALDEF to try to stop Proposition 227’s implementation shortly after last year’s election. However, a San Francisco Superior Court judge refused to grant an injunction. An appeal will be heard next year.

Variety of measures

School district officials plan to use Stanford 9 results as one of several ways to measure an English-language learner’s progress. Like MALDEF, they contend the test is not meant to gauge language acquisition.

Lynn Winters, assistant superintendent of research and planning for the Long Beach Unified School District, said just looking at how English language learners did overall on the Stanford 9 is not an accurate gauge of how closely districts complied with 227.

Not all districts gave their limited English pupils the Stanford 9, Winters said.

And in some districts, such as Long Beach, the scores of the pupils still in bilingual education are merged with the scores of those now taking sheltered immersion, so a further breakdown is needed, to see if immersion helped, Winters said.

It will take time for most districts to get that information, particularly Long Beach, where about 40 percent of pupils are English language learners.

One in an occasional series about the implementation of Proposition 227 in area schools.

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