Orange County Register

Thursday, September 24, 1998

Trends of Kids' Scores Differing
EDUCATION: Limited-English students' results hint at possible problems.
By JOHN GITTELSON, The Orange County Register

LAKE FOREST Parents rave about the dual-language immersion program, but test scores paint a murkier picture of the program at Gates Elementary School.

Children who started with a strong mastery of English show a long-term trend of rising scores. But test scores and the rate of becoming fluent in English are less positive for children who spoke little English when they began kindergarten.

Among students fluent in English, reading scores climbed from below the Saddleback Valley Unified District average in second grade, when they study almost no English, to above the district average by sixth grade.

Math, language and spelling scores also showed strong progress among fluent English students on both the Stanford 9 test in English and Spanish-language Aprenda tests.

But reading scores for Gates' limited-English students flat-lined. That was equally true for students in the dual-immersion program as for limited-English students in Gates' English-only classrooms.

Limited-English students in Gates' dual-language program were slow to gain fluency in English. Last year, four native Spanish speakers from the dual-immersion program were redesignated as fluent compared with 16 from the English-only program. The two programs are about the same size.

"Redesignation and test scores, that's what they should be focusing on," said Gloria Matta Tuchman, the Santa Ana teacher who co-wrote Prop. 227 and is running for state schools superintendent. "I suggest they have a plan to improve their test scores in English for everyone."

Many parents and teachers attributed the low test scores among Gates' limited-English children to their backgrounds. The Spanish-speaking students tend to come from lower-income and less-educated households than the fluent-English students.

"I see it as a socio-economic thing," said Tonya Iribarne, a mother of three Gates students. "I call up (Spanish-speaking) parents about a meeting or something at school and it's 11 at night and they're not home. They're out working. They don't have time to help their kids."

Another Gates mother, Alicia Ontiveros, was not surprised that children like hers who spoke only Spanish when they started Gates take longer to become fluent in English when they are studying most of the time in Spanish. But she is confident they are getting a good education.

"Statistics aren't important," she said. "My children are important and I know they are doing very well."

Cheryl Snowdon, a consultant hired by Saddleback Valley Unified to assess the program at Gates, said there weren't enough students in the program to draw sweeping conclusions about the pros or cons of dual immersion.

"All you can say is that it's not having a negative impact on academic achievement," she said.

As part of her study, Snowdon plans to survey parent and student attitudes. Do children make friends across language lines? Is culture kept alive through language? Are parents more involved in their child's school if they understand the language of instruction?

"These are values, but they are very, very important and they don't show up on standardized tests," Snowdon said.