San Francisco Examiner

Friday, May 1, 1998

S.F. Study: Bilingual Program Is a Plus
Students who finish it do as well or better than peers
By JULIE CHAO of the Examiner Staff

San Francisco school officials are hailing a new study showing that students who have completed the district's bilingual program performed as well or better than their peers in a variety of indicators.

The study, to be released Friday, looked at reading and math scores, grade-point average and attendance records of every English-proficient student over three years, from the 1994-95 through the 1996-97 school years.

"In an urban setting, with a fairly challenging group of kids, this data shows that bilingual education does produce a fairly impressive set of results," said Professor Eugene Garcia, dean of the UC-Berkeley School of Education.

The study may have little impact on voters, whom polls show to be strongly supporting Proposition 227. Sponsored by Republican software entrepreneur Ron Unz, Prop. 227 would give students with limited-English skills one year to learn English.

Unz criticized the new San Francisco study for examining only those students who had completed the bilingual program and ignoring those who hadn't.

The study compared students in three language categories: those who spoke English only; those who entered the school district fluent in two languages; and those who were "redesignated," or became fluent in English after completing the bilingual program. It did not consider students currently enrolled in bilingual classes.

"If you're leaving out the unsuccessful students, you'll tend to get good results," Unz said.

Assistant superintendent Rosita Apodaca said the point of the study was to evaluate how students performed once they left the bilingual program.

"I think it shows students are indeed prepared with sufficient English to undertake the core curriculum in English," she said.

Apodaca added that San Francisco's redesignation rate - the percentage of bilingual students each year who are certified as proficient in English and enrolled in mainstream classes - was 12 percent this year, almost double the state average of 6.7 percent.

She said students completed the bilingual program and were reclassified in four to five years, on average.

Carol Lopez, who teaches a bilingual third-grade class at Paul Revere Elementary School, said young students needed at least three years to learn to read and write in their native language before they were prepared to transfer those skills and learn in English.

If given only one year to learn English, "children would end up being very confused," Lopez said. "They would not only be lost in Spanish, they'd be lost in English and end up with no skills."

The study also showed that elementary school students got the most benefit out of bilingual education.

Although the gap in reading and math scores between English-only students and redesignated students is wide in elementary school, it narrowed in middle school and narrowed even more in high school.

Garcia suggested that high school students were under more pressure academically and socially. He also said more resources were aimed at the younger students.

The Clinton administration earlier this week called Prop. 227 punitive to children and said it would urge the state to provide up to three years of bilingual training for the non-English-speaking children of immigrants.