Another Take on Coachella Valley Unified School District v. California

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 23, 2007 2 min read
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My last blog entry is wrong in telling what a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled regarding testing of English-language learners in California. After talking with lawyers for both sides of the case, I conclude that the article I posted from the Santa Cruz Sentinel overstates the reach of the ruling--and I distorted it further in my characterization of the article.

(Matt King, the journalist who wrote the article, told me today that he wrote it based on what he took directly from the ruling in which “the judge made it very clear that he believes the state is acting properly when it limits language choices on standardized tests"; Mr. King wasn’t able to talk to lawyers on either side before the article went to press, so he says perhaps “it doesn’t have the whole story.” He stands by the conclusions he made from the ruling.)

Lawyers for both sides told me in telephone interviews that the judge has not decided in Coachella Valley Unified School District v. Californina whether or not English-only testing is okay or the current tests used under the No Child Left Behind Act are “valid and reliable” for English-language learners. Rather, Judge Richard Kramer ruled he doesn’t have the authority through one particular legal process called a “writ of mandate” to order California to change its testing system for purposes of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to Mary Hernandez, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, and Elizabeth Lovingood, who is representing the California Department of Education.

You can read the tentative ruling on Coachella Valley Unified School District v. California for yourself here. (If you have trouble with this link, you can find the ruling as well on the court’s Web site. The case number is 505334.) Ms. Hernandez said a final ruling is expected to be released in a few days but isn’t likely to differ dramatically from this one.

Ms. Hernandez acknowledges the judge found California did not abuse its discretion in selecting its tests. She adds that the judge has not yet dismissed the entire case, and he could still find fault with California’s standardized testing system for ELLs through the remaining causes of action in the case.

While no one can predict what the judge might do, an excerpt of his ruling indicates he’s reluctant to meddle in the state’s decisions about testing and the federal education law: “It is emphasized that rational people could differ as to whether administration of NCLB assessments in a second language, or in multiple additional languages, is also feasible, or desirable, or otherwise appropriate. The test for this court, however, is not to choose among competing rational alternatives and then mandate the judicially chosen one. To the contrary, decisions such as how to assess student performance for purposes of NCLB are best left to other branches of government...”

Here’s yesterday’s blog item, “A San Francisco Judge Rules That English-Only Tests are OK.”.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.