Calif. Schools To Report LEP Students’ Scores
Taking the advice of Gov. Gray Davis, the California state board of education decided last week to require schools to report the test scores of their English-language learners for the state’s new accountability index. Schools will be permitted to drop scores only for such students who have been in their district for less than a year.
"English learners should command more of our attention, not less," the Democratic governor said at the board meeting. "By exempting them, we do them a disservice."
How to include English-language learners in testing and reporting has been a contentious issue across the nation, and especially in California. By state law, all limited-English-proficient students must take the test California uses, the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition. But some people say those students’ scores lack validity, and argue they shouldn’t be used as part of a high-stakes accountability index that ranks schools.
Some states that test English-language learners have not used their scores in accountability systems out of concern that they would unfairly drag down schools’ overall rankings. And in California, an advisory committee on academics for the accountability index recommended such a policy as well.
But Gov. Davis persuaded the California board to overturn the recommendation.
Schools that improve by more than 5 percent on the state’s new accountability index from year to year will receive cash rewards.
Other contentious testing issues in California still must be resolved, however.
Under Title I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as revised in 1994, states have until next October to submit evidence to the U.S. Department of Education that they use the same assessment system to test all students on their academic standards and to show that schools receiving Title I aid are making improvement.
Currently, many state assessments aren’t designed to yield all the information that federal officials say is needed for Title I purposes.
Title I, the main federal program for disadvantaged students, also requires that states’ tests be aligned with their content and performance standards.
But California, like some other states, has not yet completed its performance standards and had them approved by the federal Education Department, said Judith Johnson, the department’s acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.
In addition, department officials say, it is unclear whether California is testing lep and special education students appropriately.
In a Nov. 5 letter to officials of the state education department, Ms. Johnson said California must offer special accommodations for LEP students and students with disabilities on its state tests. Such accommodations typically include giving students extra time or allowing them to use dictionaries.
To date, though, the state has not permitted the use of accommodations on the Stanford-9 if the results are to be included in its accountability system, said Greg Geeting, the interim executive director of the state school board.
Finally, federal officials have raised questions about whether California was complying with a stipulation in Title I that state assessment systems include "multiple up-to-date measures of student performance, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding."
That phrasing has caused confusion among state education officials, and the federal department has not spelled out exactly what it means. Some observers speculate that in addition to a single test, states should take into consideration such indicators as course completion and graduation rates.
"These issues are going to need to be sorted out over the next 12 months," said Diane Piché, a lawyer for the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington-based group that monitors federal policies and practices.
Paul Warren, the deputy superintendent for accountability for the California Department of Education, said it was difficult to know at this point how the state would meet the multiple-measures requirement. This year, California will use only one measure, the Stanford-9 test, he said.
"We’re looking for an opportunity to discuss [with federal officials] how our system is constructed and whether that meets the intent of federal law," Mr. Warren said.
Other states also are struggling with such issues, but many educators are paying particular attention to how California deals with them. The Golden State has 40 percent of the nation’s lep students.
"The way California goes will be extremely important for the rest of the country," said Barbara G. Brandes, the manager of local accountability assistance for the state education department. "If California doesn’t end up with a system that’s in the spirit of what [the esea] wants, it’s a problem."
Vol. 19, Issue 12, Page 16