Key reforms in the public school system over the past three years may be precipitating improved test scores among students — and that’s good news.

But parents and others won’t know for certain until the state Department of Education sorts out errors in the test-result tabulations, largely related to separating performance of English and non-English speaking students.

The results were released yesterday and corrections are to be made by July 15 by Harcourt Educational Measurement, which conducted the Stanford 9 tests of sixth-graders.

Explained the Department of Education on its Web site (, “The Stanford 9 and STAR augmentation results reported here for limited English proficient (LEP) students are incorrect. Errors made by Harcourt resulted in the inclusion of scores for non-LEP students in the LEP results.” STAR is the Standardized Testing and Reporting site which lists various tests for state schools. The problem with the Stanford 9 test results is that the some of the released data merge the scores of LEP and other students.

For Orange County, the preliminary data for some districts show slight improvement on the Stanford 9 scores. For example, for the Anaheim City School District, LEP students gained in all categories. LEP students rose to 25 percent fluent in language from 21 percent in 1998; and to 27 percent proficient in spelling from 22 percent in 1998.

For fluent English speakers, ironically, the numbers actually declined a bit in Anaheim — to 49 percent from 50 percent in language and to 44 percent from 46 percent in spelling.

If the general improvement is confirmed, there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment, Lance Izumi told us; he’s co-director of the Center for Innovation in Education of the Pacific Research Institute. “I’m going to have to see the corrected numbers when they come out,” he said. “But the major factors in any improvement would be a new emphasis on phonics, tougher state academic standards and getting rid of bilingual education” through Proposition 227. He pointed out that Gov. Gray Davis’s reforms, enacted earlier this year, won’t take effect until the fall semester begins.

If the improved LEP scores hold up, he said, “the only thing that’s changed for those kids is Prop. 227. All the stories we’ve been hearing that LEP students are learning English a lot faster than with bilingual education are being borne out by the test scores.”

He believes that there are two steps to take now. “We should be even more forceful in implementing Prop. 227,” he said. “The test scores should be a catalyst to scrap bilingual education and go full- speed ahead with English-only.”

He said the apparent improvement overall shows that even the reforms enacted in recent years haven’t gone far enough. “Why not try vouchers?” he asked. “If we see only a 1-2 percent improvement, do we have to say, ‘Wait 20 years for substantial improvement?”‘

We’re glad if the experimentation and faddishness of the 1980s and early 1990s seems to be washing out of the public school system, to the benefit of students. But our baseline view is that how children – – or any of us, really –learn is an individualized pursuit, and a public school system often is a one-size-fits-all, steamroller approach.

The more parents have and can make choices that suit the needs of their child and the more schools must compete to respond to those customers, the better off the student will be.

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