BY ABANDONING its lawsuit and agreeing to give standardized tests to all its students in English — whether they understand the language or not — it appears that the San Francisco Unified School District has made a shrewd decision that will ultimately benefit the very children the lawsuit had sought to protect.
City schools — as well as those in Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward — last week agreed to end their fight to overturn state law requiring all public school students to take the Stanford 9 achievement test in English. They had protested that the law violated the civil rights of English-deficient children,
unfairly victimized by educational decisions based solely on tests they can’t read.
Since the test was first given in 1998, SFUSD is the only district to repeatedly refuse to use it, systematically exempting immigrant students with less than 30 months of English instruction.
The stance has been principled but costly, potentially denying schoolchildren millions in state funds earmarked for districts that improve test scores and give the annual exam to at least 95 percent of its students. SFUSD has largely missed out because many of its schools tested too few students to qualify for state money.
But, under the agreement worked out last week, city schools will offer tests to all children while state law is reworded so that teachers can freely advise parents of their right to exempt their children from taking them.
In addition, educators will be admonished against using low scores to draw conclusions about the potential learning abilities of non-English-speaking students.
The district deserves credit for forging a win-win scenario by amending an overreaching state law.
In avoiding the court tussle, SFUSD has struck the right balance that recognizes that the tests do have value — while acknowledging the limits of those results.
In addition, the district has put itself in line for lucrative state rewards that will surely assist its overall educational efforts.