Los Angeles Times
Monday, December 8, 1997
District Wants Non-Bilingual Program OKd
Education: Westminster officials hope state board gives permanent
approval, but 2-year extension of waiver is likely.
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
WESTMINSTER--An Orange County school district that has been a leader
in the anti-bilingual education movement appears virtually assured of winning
permission to extend an English-immersion teaching program despite falling
short in two measures of success.
Westminster School District officials plan
to travel Wednesday to the State Board of Education in Sacramento to argue
that students who are not fluent in English have advanced rapidly since
the district won a two-year exemption from bilingual education rules in
The state board is expected to approve the
district's petition for renewal, but a dispute has arisen about the duration
of the waiver. State regulators say it should be good for only two years;
Westminster officials say it should be permanent.
The outcome is likely to be watched closely
as California debates whether bilingual education or other teaching methods
work best for the state's 1.4 million students with limited English skills.
The district serves 9,200 students from kindergarten
through eighth grade in Westminster, unincorporated Midway City and small
parts of Huntington Beach and Garden Grove. Four of every 10 students speak
Vietnamese or Spanish as their first language and can read and write little
Westminster, which had struggled to find
qualified teachers fluent in Vietnamese, was the first district in California
to take advantage of a 1995 state policy that opened the door for more
local alternatives to bilingual education. Three Orange County school districts,
based in Anaheim and Orange, have since followed.
Westminster officials describe their program
as English-only with this caveat: A trained corps of bilingual classroom
aides helps students somewhat in their home language.
Officials cite better-than-expected gains
in reading, language and mathematics test scores among the targeted students
as grounds for the state board to support their petition.
"I'm really optimistic," said Michael
J. Verrengia, president of the board of trustees. "We've shown that
an alternative program can work if you set it up right."
But an analysis by state regulators found
that the district fell short of its stated goals in two areas.
The district had aimed to boost its so-called
"redesignation rate" by 3 percentage points.
Redesignation is the process in which educators
test and identify those students who have reached English fluency. The
rate measures how many students reach that level as a percentage of the
total number of limited-English students.
To reach the district's goal, the annual
rate should have risen from 4.7% to 7.7%. In fact, the 1996-97 rate fell
to 4.2%--well below the statewide average of 6.7%--though officials say
the district's rate for the current school year is now 5.5% and climbing.
On the second indicator, the district had
sought a significant increase in the English skills of 90% of its nonfluent
students. It reached that goal with 76% of the students.
Saying that the evidence appeared mixed,
state Department of Education regulators recommended that Westminster be
allowed to continue with its efforts but report back to the state board
for another renewal in two years.
"They're not a clear failure and they're
not a clear success at this stage," said Norman C. Gold, the education
department's manager of bilingual compliance. "It's hard to say."
Bill Lucia, executive director for the state
board, said the district should be required only to file a written progress
report in 1999. "Why would we drag them back up here?" he asked.
"We need to start to be reasonable and mean something when we say
that districts ought to have some flexibility."
Last spring, tensions flared between Westminster
school board officials and the state education department when Verrengia
declined to apologize for calling bilingual education regulators a "merry
bunch of communists."
Delaine Eastin, the state superintendent
of public instruction, rebuked Verrengia afterward in a sharply worded
letter threatening legal action.
Neither Verrengia nor Gold would comment
last week on that incident.