San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

State School Test Scores Released
S.F. judge lifts ban -- results below U.S. average.
By NANETTE ASIMOV, Chronicle Staff Writer

California schoolchildren read, spell and calculate below the national average, according to long- awaited statewide achievement test scores released yesterday -- but 20 percent of the students were tested in English, a language they do not understand.

The state Department of Education posted the scores on the Internet after a Superior Court judge in San Francisco lifted a ban that had kept the test scores secret for three weeks because they included those of the non-English-speaking students.

The website shows scores for all schools and districts around the state.

But Judge David Garcia also ruled that state educators cannot force school districts to place the 1998 scores in the records of children who have been in this country less than 30 months, make academic decisions based on their scores, or even share them with parents.

Among 4.1 million children tested this spring in six subjects, including high school science and social science, only 9th-graders met the national average in math, and 11th-graders exceeded the national average slightly in social science.

Although several other states use the same test, known as the Standardized Testing & Reporting (STAR) exam, only California tests all students in English. Nearly 800,000 limited-English speaking children took the test, the first in four years.

The multiple-choice test has a top score of 99, with a score of 50 as the national average.

Scores of children who speak little English hovered in the bottom 25 percent. Only in math were the average scores in some grades slightly higher. None exceeded 28.

`It should come as no surprise that (limited-English-speaking) student scores are generally lower than those of other students,` said state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, who has long disagreed with Governor Pete Wilson and the state Board of Education that all children should be tested in English.

``Students who cannot read the test are clearly at a disadvantage (compared) with those who can,'' she said.

Wilson and the state board have said testing all children in English provides a valuable baseline for measuring progress in English -- a goal that is at the heart of Proposition 227, the ban on bilingual education approved by voters in June.

The overall STAR results, which included those of the immigrant children, were particularly dismal in reading and spelling.

Sixth-graders achieved the highest average score in spelling -- a mere 40 points. In reading, eighth-graders earned 44 points, the highest average score.

Yvonne Larsen, president of the state Board of Education, called the poor reading scores ``troubling'' and evidence of a ``two-tier system of education.''

``We have one system for those with English skills and one for those without,'' she said.

But many educators said the low overall scores are not the fault of the bilingual education system they say has helped children, but rather on the fact that the students are recent arrivals.

``It would be like taking the test in Chinese,'' said San Francisco school board president Carlota del Portillo.

Civil rights attorneys and educators in Berkeley and Oakland, which had sued to suppress the immigrant children's scores, hailed yesterday's court ruling allowing districts to avoid placing the scores in individual students' academic records.

``This is truly a major victory for all California schoolchildren,'' said Berkeley Superintendent Jack McLaughlin. He said he and other Bay Area superintendents are pushing for permanent legislation that would exempt any child who does not understand the language from having to take the test in English.

Lawyers for the Berkeley and Oakland school districts told Garcia last week that schools make important decisions about children's abilities and what kinds of classes they should take based on their academic records.

Immigrant children would risk being steered into less challenging classes if artificially low test scores are put in their records, said Joseph Jaramillo, attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which joined in the districts' lawsuit.

Yesterday, Garcia agreed.

STAR scores for all California schools and districts are posted on the website star.cde.ca.gov/