S.F. Files Federal Suit Over Testing of LEP Students

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Arguing that the civil rights of students with limited proficiency in English are being violated, the San Francisco district has filed suit in federal court against California's new basic-skills test, which must be given in English.

But the California education department last week asked a state judge to order San Francisco to give the Stanford 9 test to all students by the May 15 testing deadline. It was unclear when the state would respond to the federal lawsuit.

Although other school leaders throughout the state disagree with the mandate, San Francisco is the only one of California's 1,100 local and county districts to refuse to give the test to some LEP students. The Los Angeles district last month dropped the idea of challenging the test in court. ("L.A. Abandons Challenge To English-Only Test," March 11, 1998.)

The superintendent of the 62,000-student San Francisco schools argues that the test, to be given to all students in English regardless of their proficiency in the language, violates constitutional and federal civil rights of students who don't know enough English to read the test and show what they know about reading, writing, math, history-social science, and science.

Funding Docked

"It's just flat-out cruel, unnecessary, meaningless," Superintendent Waldemar Rojas said of the test in an interview last week. Mr. Rojas and others contend that the test would be a waste of time and money for the 1.3 million California students--about one in four of the 4.25 million students to be tested statewide--who are not versed in English.

The lawsuit filed by San Francisco officials March 27 in the U.S. District Court in that city says that those students who have been enrolled in the city's schools for 30 months or less should not be forced to take the test. In San Francisco, there are 5,740 such English-language learners in grades 2-11. The district is giving the test to other students as required.

State administrators argue the test is essential for measuring student progress. The state school board has taken a hard line against those who flout the testing mandate and has already docked San Francisco $320,000 in federal technology funds that the state controls, Mr. Rojas said.

Moreover, the state board has directed Delaine Eastin, the state schools superintendent, to consider withholding from that district about $11 million in state and federal categorical aid, including money for low-income children and bilingual programs.

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