What the Scores Tell Us


A year after voters approved the anti-bilingual education law Proposition 227, tens of thousands of California schoolchildren with limited English skills showed only modest gains in Stanford 9 test scores released Thursday.

In Orange County, where 93,949 students, or 27%, are classified as limited English proficient, scores inched up across the board. Test results improved most in the early grades and, reflecting a state trend, dropped somewhat at the high school level.

For example, reading scores for second-graders rose 6 percentile points while at the high school level, ninth-, tenth- and eleventh- grade scores stayed the same or varied by 1 percentile point.

School officials in several Orange County districts said the second year of Stanford 9 testing is still too soon to find easily discernible trends, although limited-English students in the county scored slightly higher than the state average for their peers in almost every subject.

"Right now, we're looking at school-by-school results, down to the grade and teacher level, at kids in English immersion and in bilingual programs, and the results are really kind of mixed," said Joe Tafoya, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Santa Ana Unified School District.

The district's students who don't speak English--about two-thirds of those who took the test--showed slight improvements in almost every subject area and grade, but they still overall had low scores, with percentiles in the 20s.

"It's hard to say if [Proposition] 227 is hurting or helping us, because we've made such a push on English language development overall," Tafoya said.

For example, at Lowell Elementary School, a large number of parents signed waivers and kept their children in bilingual instruction, but that school's test scores rose this year the same way other schools with fewer bilingual classes did.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Irvine Unified students who lack English skills earned far higher scores. Reading scores still fell below the national average, sinking to the 19th percentile in high school, but rankings were in the 70th and 80th percentiles in math. Irvine school officials attributed their higher scores to involved parents who read to their children.

Two schools with heavy immigrant populations that posted strong gains in the Capistrano Unified School District were San Juan and Las Palmas elementaries.

"The minute Proposition 227 [which banned most bilingual instruction] passed, we started to move on it, putting together what we think is a really strong sheltered English immersion program," said Austin Buffam, an associate superintendent. "When teachers arrived, all the materials were there. We put in place strong staff development and had everything ready. I think the results show."

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, where about 313,400 students, or 46%, are classified as limited English proficient, third-grade reading scores for English learners crept up from the 13th percentile to the 15th. In math, they rose from the 24th percentile to the 29th.

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