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Published in Print: October 19, 2005, as Gov. Schwarzenegger Vetoes Changes to State Exam Policy

Gov. Schwarzenegger Vetoes Changes to State Exam Policy

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Groups that advocate on behalf of English-language learners and students with disabilities in California are disappointed that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed several bills that they believe would have helped those students.

The Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have required California to provide English-language learners who receive some instruction in Spanish or have just arrived in the United States from a Spanish-speaking country a version of the state’s standardized academic tests in Spanish.

The bill, which was backed by numerous local school district administrators, also would have required the state to provide a version of the tests in modified English for English-language learners.

“As an immigrant whose second language is English, I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, in order to be successful in the United States,” wrote Mr. Schwarzenegger in his veto message. “The bill runs counter to that goal by eliminating testing in English for limited-English-proficient (LEP) students until they have been in school in the United States for three consecutive years.”

Maria S. Quezada, the executive director of the California Association for Bilingual Education, said the governor’s explanation shows he doesn’t understand that if he had signed the bill, English-language learners still would have been tested annually on their English proficiency.

For years, school districts have been giving such students the California English Language Development Test for that purpose. The bill would have required the state to provide Spanish and modified-English versions of other tests that instead would have assessed the academic knowledge of English-language learners, Ms. Quezada said.

“Schools and parents deserve to know what their children are learning in school as they are learning English,” she said. “By vetoing this bill, he’s giving them no information of what they are learning in school.”

Because of the veto, Ms. Quezada added, the governor missed the opportunity to resolve a lawsuit filed on June 1 in state superior court in San Francisco.

Eleven school districts are participating in the lawsuit, which argues that the state is violating the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s requirements to test English-language learners in a “valid and reliable manner” because California doesn’t provide a test in Spanish or modified English. Thus, Ms. Quezada said, the suit will continue.

Back to the Drawing Board

Similarly, advocates for students with disabilities are disappointed that Mr. Schwarzenegger rejected a bill that would have waived, for two graduating classes, the requirement that all students with disabilities pass California’s high school exit exam to get a diploma.

“We wanted students with disabilities not to be penalized for not being prepared for the exam,” said Roger Heller, a staff attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit group, which supported the bill.

Mr. Schwarzenegger wrote in vetoing the bill that enacting it would have sent “the wrong message to the over 650,000 special education students in our state, the majority of which have the ability to pass the [California High School Exit Examination].”

The legislation had incorporated terms of a settlement agreement for a class action known as Chapman v. California Department of Education, which Disability Rights Advocates had filed in federal district court in San Francisco in 2001. ("Calif. Special Education Students Could Get Exam Break," Sept. 7, 2005.)

Mr. Heller and the governor pointed out that the bill approved by the legislature went further than the settlement terms. The settlement required that the state waive the exit-exam requirement for some students with disabilities only for one year, while the bill required a waiver for two years.

Because the bill was vetoed, said Mr. Heller, “we need to go back to the [California] Department of Education to see if they will agree to the one year that they agreed to in the past. If they won’t do that, we’ll have to go to court and seek a preliminary injunction.”

The governor also rejected a bill that would have allowed all students to satisfy the English-language-arts or mathematics sections of the high school exit exam by passing an alternative performance assessment.

“Allowing school districts to offer alternative assessments at this time sends the wrong message to students, parents, teachers, and administrators that we do not expect students to achieve at the highest levels,” he wrote.

Vol. 25, Issue 08, Page 20

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