Court Frees California From Ban on Publishing LEP Test Results

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With the legal battle around California's new statewide basic-skills tests over for now, districts are divided over what to do with the data for the 4.1 million students in grades 2-11 who took the controversial exam this spring.

At the heart of the turmoil are the results for some 800,000 students who, despite their limited English proficiency, were required to take the exams in the language anyway.

The Oakland and Berkeley districts successfully sued to bar the state from publishing their scores, as the state legislature had required, by June 30. As a result of court action at the time, only the state-level scores for English-proficient students who took the Statewide Testing and Reporting Program, or STAR, tests were released then.

But state Superior Court Judge David Garcia, in San Francisco, overturned the ban July 21, freeing the state to post the results on the Internet, which it did by week's end, with breakdowns for its 1,000 districts.

As predicted by many observers, the ratio of students performing at the national average on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition dropped when the scores for LEP students were factored in.

For example, 47 percent of 3rd graders fluent in English scored at or above the national average of 50 percent on the reading portion of the test, compared with 37 percent for all students.

The gaps were not all so big. Forty-four percent of English-fluent 10th graders scored at or above the 50th percentile on the mathematics portion, vs. 41 percent when limited-English students were counted as well.

"It should come as no surprise that LEP student scores are generally lower than those of other students," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. "California students who cannot read the test are clearly at a disadvantage with those who can."

File Restrictions

While the plaintiffs in the suit were not triumphant in suppressing the LEP students' scores, they were able to claim a major victory. Judge Garcia barred the state from requiring districts to put individual test results in the files of LEP students who have attended California schools for less than 30 months, and from making academic decisions based on the test scores.

"The use of the test scores to make educational decisions about LEP students is not only inappropriate but harmful," argued Joseph Jaramillo, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, which represented the Oakland and Berkeley districts. The Los Angeles-based advocacy group plans to seek an injunction next year against administering the test in English to students whose English is severely wanting.

But the judge's decision did not restrict how districts can use the information. And not all districts have the same ideas.

The 53,000-student Oakland schools will not send test results to the parents of LEP students unless the parents request them.

"Our position is that the test scores are invalid for LEP students," said Roy Combs, the general counsel for the Oakland system. "If parents request them, then we will do it."

In contrast, all parents with children in the Sacramento schools will be given results. The 49,000-student district plans to put the data in individual student files to track academic progress.

"Assuming that LEP parents don't want to learn the scores is not always right," said Mindy Kohler, the director of testing for Sacramento.

Meanwhile, the 681,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District also is sending the results to all parents. A decision over placing the results in student files is pending.

The state's most populous district began using the Stanford test on its own for the first time in the 1996-97 school year, and saw its scores go up only slightly on this latest year's results, a district spokesman said.

"We'll take it, but we're not satisfied," said Pat Spencer, a spokesman for the Los Angeles schools. "It's still very much below the average."

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 29

Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Court Frees California From Ban on Publishing LEP Test Results
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