Original URL: http://www.vaildaily.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Site=VD&Date=20021021&Category=NEWS&ArtNo=210210102&Ref=AR

Test scores and Amendment 31
Vail Daily, October 21, 2002

Veronica Whitney

Proponents of Amendment 31 say there's not a single school district in Colorado that can
show any advancement in achievement for second language learners.

"They had 23 years to show that bilingual education is an effective tool to teach English, and they
haven't," says Rita Montero, the Colorado resident sponsor of Amendment 31. "Test scores that are
coming up from the state show that kids aren't achieving. ... Spanish speakers are testing in the

Opponents, however, blame low scores on several factors.

Within the Eagle County School District, Spanish-speaking students' test scores for the Colorado
Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, have remained flat since the tests' inception in 1997, says
Assistant Superintendent John Brendza.

Scores for CSAP tests taken in Spanish - Lectura, or reading, offered to third- and fourth-graders,
and Escritura, or writing, taken by fourth-graders - showed gains this year. But scores for the test
taken in English show an achievement gap of 40 percent in some grades between English-speaking
and Hispanic students in Eagle County.

"CSAP scores show there's a huge discrepancy in scores between Hispanics and white students,"
Brendza says. "That is why, regardless the outcome of Amendment 31, the school district is taking a
comprehensive look at its second-language-acquisition programs."

Scores aren't everything

Scores just tell part of the story, however says Jorge García of English Plus, a grassroots group
opposing Amendment 31. He says scores for Hispanics are low because they include scores of
children who are still learning English.

"Limited-English-speakers bring down the scores because they're limited in English," says García,
who works with the Boulder Valley Public Schools. "The real question is how do these kids do after
they become English proficient after they've had an opportunity to learn English?"

Boulder Valley School District's schools keep track of how limited English students do after they
graduated from the current three-year-long bilingual and English-as-a-second-language, or ESL,

"They scored higher than native English-speaking students, who scored 80 percent in the "proficient"
and "advanced" category," García says.

In 2002, third-, fourth- and seventh-graders who recently graduated from the school's
second-language-acquisition programs scored 96 percent proficient and advanced on the reading test.

Montero, however, insists Amendment 31 provides for a particular technique known as shelter
English, the best way to teach English.

Many factors

Brendza says the reasons for low scores are multiple. One principle reason for the low performance
in CSAP tests, he points out, is the high percentage of transient students, mostly Hispanics.

"We have very high percent of transient students, and most of them are Hispanic," Brendza says.

In fact, children taking the fourth-grade 2002 Lectura test who've been in the same school more than
a year scored 42 percent the proficient and advanced category. Those scores went down to 28
percent, however, for students who have in the same school for only three months or less.

Similarly, children taking the third-grade Lectura test who've been in the district for more than a year
scored 62 percent in proficient and advanced category while those who've been in the same school
for no more than three months scored 46 percent.

"You get only a partial view if you look at the scores without considering the length of time the
student has been in the same school," García says.

Another factor is the student's past schooling, he adds.

"If you believe that a student who is limited-English-proficient should be compared with one who's
speaking English all the time, that isn't a fair comparison," García says.

The biggest factor explaining the achievement gap is the students' socioeconomic status, García adds.

"Anglo and Hispanics students who are poor score lower on tests," he says. "Another factor is the
cultural differences of the Hispanic students with their teachers, he adds. "There's a lack of
connection with them."

Is immersion the answer?

Proponents of bilingual education, Montero says, are presently segregating students.

"Those kids aren't getting an education," Montero says. "It's a maintenance program where Spanish is
the priority."

García, however, says Hispanic students' performance absolutely will not be changed by Amendment
31, pointing out that after a similar measure, called Proposition 227, passed in California, the
achievement gap actually widened. Test scores for English learners in California climbed as much as
those of English-speaking students after California voters approved the measure in 1998.

A study conducted by the American Institutes for Research for the California Department of
Education of the first four years since the program has been in place reports there has been gains for
English learners. However, the study finds, those students also continue to score substantially lower
than their native English-speaking peers.

Proposition 227 replaced bilingual education in California with a statewide system mandating a year
of English-immersion instruction. Standardized test scores went up for both learners, native and
non-native English speakers, says Lauri Burnham of the California Department of Education.

"The gap between two groups of students hasn't narrowed, though," Burnham says.

"The interesting point is that scores went up in districts that abandoned bilingual education as well as
districts that didn't have any bilingual program before Proposition 227," she says. "Scores also went
up in districts which kept bilingual programs through parent waivers."

Well-implemented bilingual programs have proved to be very good, Burnham says.

Getting parents involved

In Eagle County, the school district recently consulted with a second-language acquisition expert from
the Colorado Department of Education.

"She told us we should be looking at the amount of time we teach English," Brendza says. "The
consultant told us we need to be consistent with the amount of time we teach English."

Other options are extending the teaching for English learners to after-school programs and summer

"We've already set a goal to have all students scoring 80 percent in the proficient and advanced
category in three years," he adds, "and that includes all students."

This school year, Hispanics comprised 38 percent of the student body in the the Eagle County School
District - 16 percent of those, or 741 students, are in the schools' ESL programs.

"We need to work with the transient students and get parents more involved," Brendza says. "Some
parents work ridiculous hours and can't have any interaction with the school or their children."

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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