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No-Win Stalemate on Testing

California parents have been awaiting the June 30 publication of state test scores--district by district, school by school, pupil by pupil--that would allow a comparison of students from one locality with those from another and with students nationwide. But the scheduled release was blocked last week by a judge who, though he did not issue an opinion, apparently agreed with the school districts that brought the case to court: It was unfair to force schools to lump the results of limited-English speakers with those of native speakers. The result? California remains at least temporarily unable to make district-to-district or nationwide comparisons. More stalemate and frustration for the state’s parents. Nobody wins.

Would the mixing of test results from students who speak English fluently with those who do not make for lower scores? Undoubtedly. But the option pushed for so hard by some educators and school districts--release of no statewide information at all--is self-serving in the extreme. No release of low scores means no explanations needed for why the scores were so low, no explanations for why so many California schoolchildren lack English skills. Individual districts may release results; however, without statewide reporting, comparisons are difficult.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, we’re happy to say, demonstrated a can-do attitude; the district arranged in advance with the test publisher to report the scores of English-speaking and limited-English students separately. But the LAUSD rightly did not seek to block the release of district or statewide totals that include results of the English-fluent and nonfluent students.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Gov. Pete Wilson stubbornly refused to have the state separate the test scores of limited-English students from students fluent in English. He thus egged on the opposition and helped bring on the judge’s action.

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Under the court order, the state may issue only the scores of students proficient in English, but the state Department of Education can’t re-sort the results in time for the scheduled release. The state Court of Appeal could take up the case as early as today and allow the release of all scores except those of Oakland and Berkeley, the two districts seeking to block the release of the scores of limited-English students.

Testing measures what works and what does not work in a classroom. To get a baseline from which to start, the state was right to test all pupils in English except the newest immigrant and newest limited-English students.

LAUSD Supt. Ruben Zacarias said the district will not release the separated scores of nonfluent-English speakers. At some point, however, these parents need to know how their children are doing in English as well as in their academic subjects.

Once again, intransigence by some education officials--in this case not LAUSD leaders--and the governor ill-serves the public school students of California.

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