Los Angeles Times

Friday, June 26, 1998

Judge Blocks Release of State Test Scores

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 careful planning."
      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 in English.
      "The students don't understand or read English, yet they're tested in English, so why should their scores be out there?"
      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 nation.
      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 separately.
      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 here.
      For example, among the students nationally to whom California children would be compared, less than 2% have limited English fluency.
      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.