Los Angeles Times
Friday, June 26, 1998
Judge Blocks Release of State Test Scores
By RICHARD LEE COLVIN, NICK ANDERSON, Times
A San Francisco judge ordered state officials Thursday not to release
test scores due to come out next week that would have made it possible
for the first time to compare the performance of all California public
school students to those across the nation.
Municipal Judge Ronald E. Quidachay, filling
in for a Superior Court judge, issued the order in response to petitions
from the Berkeley and Oakland school districts. Officials of many school
districts have objected to the tests because the state required all students--including
the roughly one in four who do not speak English fluently--to take the
exams in English.
Releasing school-by-school scores that include
tests of students examined in a language they do not understand would unfairly
make urban school districts with large numbers of immigrants look worse
than they are, educators have argued.
The judge's order only blocks release of
the scores of students who are not fluent in English, but officials say
the state is not prepared to separate those scores in time to release data
as scheduled next week.
"It's unfortunate that this has happened
at the eleventh hour," said Doug Stone, a state Department of Education
spokesman. "This has thrown a huge monkey wrench into the department's
Gov. Pete Wilson, who sponsored the testing
program and insisted that the English-language tests be given to all students,
angrily denounced the judge's ruling. Wilson aides said that while a temporary
restraining order normally cannot be appealed, state lawyers are examining
the possibility of seeking an emergency ruling from the Court of Appeal
to dissolve the order.
Unless a higher court intervenes, the judge's
temporary restraining order will last until a hearing scheduled for July
16. At that point, the judge could issue a further injunction.
Although Quidachay did not release an opinion
with his order, he apparently accepted arguments by the school districts
that testing students in a language they do not speak violates the federal
Equal Education Opportunity Act. The lawyers cited earlier court decisions
that held that students who have limited English fluency must be tested
in their own language.
"It's deplorable that one judge and
a number of education bureaucrats are so fearful of accountability for
how poorly education is being provided in parts of our state," Wilson
said in a statement.
"They are spending their resources
on denying knowledge to parents through the courtroom instead of investing
resources to provide education to children in the classroom."
But Berkeley Supt. Jack McLaughlin defended
his district's move. "It just doesn't seem appropriate" to publish
the scores of schools serving large numbers of children who don't speak
English, he said. Twelve percent of Berkeley's 9,100 students are not fluent
"The students don't understand or read
English, yet they're tested in English, so why should their scores be out
The test scores have been eagerly awaited
by many parents, politicians and education officials because they will,
for the first time in years, allow direct school-by-school comparisons
of performance. Many educators, however, dreaded what they feared would
be news that showed California students lagging behind their peers across
The case began when the San Francisco Unified
School District refused to abide by the testing law and state officials
went to court in an effort to force it to comply. San Francisco won two
rounds in court, allowing it to avoid testing 6,000 non-fluent students.
Thursday's ruling came in response to a
move by Berkeley and Oakland officials to intervene in the San Francisco
case to prevent the state from publishing the test scores June 30, as required
by the state's testing law. The state's plan has been to release the test
scores to the public through the Internet.
Ironically, even as some districts fought to block the release of the scores,
other districts have begun to publicize them ahead of the state's schedule.
Twenty-three of the 27 districts in Orange
County have released their test scores, and the giant Los Angeles Unified
School District--the state's largest--plans to do so next week.
L.A. Unified, however, had already made
arrangements with the test publisher, Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement,
to report the scores of English speaking and non-English-speaking students
Los Angeles Supt. Ruben Zacarias said that
the district would halt further distribution of individual scores to the
parents of about 200,000 students who are not fluent in English.
The judge's ruling, however, will block
the issuance of statewide totals and prevent the state from forcing local
districts to make their scores public.
In the last few weeks, educators across the state had come together in
hundreds of meetings in hotel rooms and conference rooms, steeling themselves
with answers to questions about the meaning of the avalanche of data on
the performance of 4.1 million students in grades two through 11.
Students were tested in reading, writing
and math. Students through eighth grade also took a spelling test, and
students in higher grades took exams in social studies and science.
The state conducted briefings for administrators,
school board members and reporters, stressing that the students to whom
California students were to be compared were different from those tested
For example, among the students nationally
to whom California children would be compared, less than 2% have limited
In addition to the current case, the San
Francisco school district has filed a further complaint in court seeking
to completely invalidate the testing program.
"Our position is that the results .
. . should not be kept in students' permanent records because the test
violates the state's own statutes," said Sandina Robbins, a spokeswoman
for the San Francisco district.
The district argues that a student's scores
on the Stanford 9 test could stain the record of an applicant to college
or that they could be used inappropriately to place students who simply
don't speak English in classes for the learning disabled.