Test scores and Amendment 31
Vail Daily, October 21, 2002
Proponents of Amendment 31 say there's not a single school district in Colorado
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 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
and Hispanic students in Eagle County.
"CSAP scores show there's a huge discrepancy in scores between Hispanics and
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
opposing Amendment 31. He says scores for Hispanics are low because they include
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
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
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
English, the best way to teach English.
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,
"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
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
"Those kids aren't getting an education," Montero says. "It's a maintenance
program where Spanish is
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
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
A study conducted by the American Institutes for Research for the California
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
"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
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
"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
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.