10 Districts Sue State Over Testing
Los Angeles Times
June 2, 2005
By Duke Helfand, LA Times Staff Writer
The school systems object to students with limited English skills being forced
to take standardized exams in that language.
Ten California school districts sued the state Wednesday, accusing top officials
of violating the federal No Child Left Behind education law by requiring
students with limited English skills to take annual standardized tests in
English rather than in their primary languages.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that such
English-language tests produce invalid and unreliable test scores for
California's 1.6-million students who are still learning the language.
The test results for math, English and other subjects are used to evaluate
schools and districts under No Child Left Behind. Campuses can face sanctions,
including the removal of staff, if they fail to adequately raise scores.
District superintendents and bilingual advocates say the state's testing system
unfairly penalizes school systems that serve large numbers of immigrant and
migrant students with a limited command of English.
The school officials want the state to comply with No Child Left Behind's
guidelines that allow schools to wait up to five years before giving
English-language tests to students who are not proficient in the language.
"California's testing of English learners is neither valid nor reliable. This
has been disastrous and very painful for our community," Supt. Ruben H. Pulido
of the Alisal Union Elementary School District in Salinas told a news conference
in Los Angeles on Wednesday. "We are not educational failures."
In addition to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the suit names Supt. of Public
Instruction Jack O'Connell, members of the state Board of Education and the
state Department of Education.
A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said the administration would not comment because
it had not yet seen the lawsuit.
But O'Connell's spokesman defended the state's method of testing all students in
English annually, saying the approach had won the blessing of the U.S.
Department of Education.
The spokesman, Rick Miller, also said the state did not have a reliable
alternative test in Spanish, or any other foreign language, that was acceptable
to the federal government.
"We have more than 100 languages spoken in our schools," Miller said. "It's not
practical to produce a test in every language. What they want is not possible."
Most California public school students are now taught in English, the result of
a 1998 voter-approved initiative that sharply limited bilingual education.
Still, it often takes students several years to become proficient in English, a
factor that affects test results.
No Child Left Behind does not require states to measure academic proficiency in
English until such students have been enrolled in a school in this country for
three or more years. Districts can exempt students for an additional two years
if they still are not proficient in English.
By contrast, all California students are tested annually in English on exams
tied to the state's academic standards; the scores of first-time test takers
with limited English skills are not counted against schools. In addition to
conforming to the federal law, the districts want the state to modify the
English tests to make them more comprehensible to students. Doing so, they said,
would be fair to English learners as well as the schools and districts they
"Our students are doing quite well, as long as they are given the opportunity to
learn English," said Supt. Foch Pensis of the Coachella Valley Unified School
District in Riverside and Imperial counties, which has been identified under No
Child Left Behind as needing improvement based partly on the test scores of its
The Coachella Valley and Alisal school districts were joined in the lawsuit by
school systems in Hawthorne, Oxnard and other urban and rural areas. Students,
parents and advocacy organizations, including the California Assn. for Bilingual
Education, also were part of the suit.
"We are defeating the purpose of No Child Left Behind when we don't test kids
validly," said Mary Hernandez, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.