San Jose Mercury News

Tuesday, June 30, 1998

Suit Blocks Test Details on the Net
By MICHAEL BAZELEY, Mercury News Staff Writer

Disappointment awaits parents, journalists, real estate brokers and lawmakers who had expected today to be able to compare how schools performed on the first state achievement test since 1994.

Although school and district scores were legally required to be posted on the Internet by the end of the day, a lawsuit by two Bay Area school districts means education officials plan to release only a statewide summary of the scores.

The results -- to be posted on the state Department of Education Web site after 11 a.m. at -- are expected to show only how well California's English-speaking students scored as a whole compared with a national sample of students.

Scores for limited-English-speaking students, who are about one-fourth of the total student population, will not be posted. And scores for individual schools or districts will not be released.

``The public will be able to get a sense of how students are doing across the state on various subject matter,'' said Doug Stone, spokesman for the Education Department.

The release of the Statewide Testing and Reporting (STAR) scores today was supposed to be the public's first opportunity in four years to see how schools stack up against one another.

Students were tested this spring in second through 11th grades on reading and math on the Stanford 9 standardized exam, produced by testing giant Harcourt Brace. High school students were also tested in social science and science on the exam.

What lawmakers wanted to see
Gov. Pete Wilson and other lawmakers had hoped that posting the scores on the Internet would allow parents to compare the performance of their child's school or district to others in the state. And some lawmakers had hoped to be able to identify poorly performing schools.

But like its predecessor, the California Learning Assessment System, the STAR test has become embroiled in political and ideological fighting.

The San Francisco Unified School District this spring refused to administer the test to non-English-speaking students and then sued the state. In a May ruling, a San Francisco Superior Court judge agreed with the district and said it did not have to give the test in English to all students.

Then last week, the Oakland and Berkeley school districts filed suit challenging the validity of the scores for limited-English-speaking students on the English-only test.

``If you have students who don't speak English, you cannot test their ability to read, which means you have an artificially low score, and that is discriminatory,'' said San Francisco lawyer Laura Schulkind, an attorney for the two districts. ``The harm of posting (the scores) on the Internet is to give a false impression of how kids are doing.''

A San Francisco Superior Court judge temporarily barred the state from releasing test scores for non-English speaking students from any of California's 999 districts at least until after a July 16 hearing.

Education Department officials appealed the order Monday, hoping to get permission to post all the scores today. But no court hearing had been scheduled as of Monday night to consider the appeal.

Officials felt obligated
State officials said they felt obligated to release some data today, even if it is incomplete. But because the state could not separate out the scores of the limited-English-speaking students from the total package by today, officials said they would delay the release of nearly all the scores.

``It seems it's in the public's best interest to release some data so we can begin a discussion of how schools are doing on this one test,'' Stone said. ``It's a significant test that more than 4 million students took.''

Stone said the department wants the court to limit the restraining order to just the Berkeley and Oakland test scores, not all school districts.

``We're basically arguing . . . that the underlying complaint was not a class action suit based on all 999 school districts,'' Stone said.

While it awaits a legal ruling, the state will try compiling ``far more detailed'' breakdowns of the scores for release sometime in mid-July.

In addition to the legal challenges, the test has also come under fire from school superintendents and other educators who feel a standardized, multiple-choice test cannot accurately reflect what students are really learning. State educators urged lawmakers in vain to wait at least a year on testing until a state commission finished work on a set of new academic standards on which to base a new state exam.

Other educators have complained that the current test compares students against a national sample that does not reflect California's higher proportion of special education and limited-English-speaking students.

In California, for example, approximately 24.6 percent of the students do not read or write English fluently, compared with 2 percent in the national sample.
``Students, teachers and schools need to be judged fairly,'' said Jo Ann Yee, executive director of the Association of California Urban School Districts. ``This norm does not reflect California.''

The current restraining order applies only to the state Department of Education. State schools chief Delaine Eastin told school superintendents in a letter last week that ``each district or county office is free to publicize or not publicize its own STAR test scores.''

Most Santa Clara County districts have either already released individual student scores to parents or are in the process of doing so.

The Alum Rock School District in East San Jose is preparing this week to send results home to parents, Assistant Superintendent Richard Reyes said. Parents of children with limited English skills -- about 40 percent of the district -- are being told of the ``limitations'' of the English-only test and instructed to call the district if scores appear too low, Reyes said.

``When you give a measure that is inappropriate, it falls on us to explain to parents why it's inappropriate,' Reyes said.

Moreland School District Superintendent Jim Ritchie shares many of his colleagues' concerns about the usefulness of the test. On the other hand, he said, a flawed statewide test is better than the most recent system, where districts were free to choose their exam and scores were not comparable among tests.

``You have to have some measure of statewide progress,'' he said. ``At least this way, we can see where we're good, and where we're bad, and then we can get moving on the improvement process.''