In barring the state Department of Education from publishing statewide school testing results next Tuesday, a San Francisco judge has delayed public access to the first snapshot of school and student achievement in nearly a decade.

Despite any flaws, political ramifications or self-esteem issues involved in the new Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, the public deserves an open and unvarnished look at its results.

Schools have already sent home test results for most individual students in grades 2-11, so students who speak little English probably already know they did poorly on the tests. Now the state Department of Education should be able to post the statewide, districtwide and school-by-school results that will help parents and districts determine where individual schools stand.

Until those results are posted, parents who paid for the test with tax dollars have no means to compare their children’s scores with overall results from schools, districts, the state or students across the nation.

Urban school districts with large numbers of limited-English-speaking students applauded the delay. They have reason to expect dismal scores that prove little other than that their students have poor English comprehension skills. And they fear those poor test results will be used to paint their schools as poor overall performers — resulting in bad press, poor morale and, possibly, state sanctions if the Legislature adopts measures to hold schools accountable for poor results.

Oakland Superintendent Carole C. Quan, who along with Berkeley school officials joined a lawsuit over testing of students with limited English skills, argues the STAR test reports “invalid scores.”

The scores of students with limited English skills may indeed be invalid measurements of how well those students understand some academic concepts. But they are perfectly valid measurements of how well they comprehend those concepts in English — the language in which all classes must be taught following passage of Proposition 227. They are also valid measurements of how students who do speak English are doing as compared to students across the nation, where only 1.8 percent are classified as limited-English-speaking. More important for the state as a whole, they provide a baseline measurement — however low — that will allow school districts, parents and students to view their performance over the next few years. They will also allow for instructive comparisons between schools with similar populations — perhaps shedding light on programs that succeed and those that fail.

Districts fretting about too much emphasis being placed on this single test would do better if they stopped placing so much emphasis on it themselves, and instead used what useful information they can glean from the results.

Judge Ronald Quidachay’s ruling — that the state cannot release limited-English-speaking students’ scores at least until after a hearing July 16 — does not prohibit districts from posting the scores now. Indeed, the state intends to ask that the order be limited to the Oakland and Berkeley districts that intervened. In Sacramento and elsewhere, districts should act on their own to release results now.



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