Proposition 227 and Achievement Test Scores in California:
Partisan Claims and Scientific Realities
by James Crawford
Feb 12, 2000

Some have cited Stanford 9 achievement test scores to claim "success" for Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education initiative passed by California voters in June 1998. Sponsor Ron Unz recently claimed that scores for English learners were up by 20% after just 7 months of English-only instruction (Boston Globe, Jan 12, 2000). This is pure fabrication. Here’s what the evidence really shows:

1. According to a nonpartisan analysis by the Los Angeles Times (Aug 4, 1999), Stanford 9 scores rose for ALL groups of California schoolchildren last year, regardless of their language background. In reading, limited-English-proficient (LEP) students gained 1.8 percentile points on average, and English-proficient students 1.9 points. In math, both groups gained 3.9 points.

2. These modest increases were no surprise, considering that in 1997 California began a major initiative to reduce class size in the elementary grades, among other reforms. Perhaps more important, 1998 was the second year of the statewide testing program. Disappointing results in Year One led many school districts to devote much more class time and resources to test preparation. Thus, despite the claims of English-only proponents, "it’s really tough to draw any major conclusions" based on last year’s Stanford 9 scores, according to Ron Dietel, of UCLA’s Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 1999).

3. Oceanside, the "poster district" most often cited by Proposition 227 supporters, actually had lower than average increases in its Stanford 9 scores. A study team led by Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford University psychologist (, analyzed scores for 3rd graders in a random sample of school districts with high enrollments of LEP students. It found that, on average, reading scores for these students rose by 4 percentile points on average, versus only 3 points in Oceanside.

4. Because of federal court orders and waivers of the English-only rule at parents’ request, some districts continued to provide bilingual education after the passage of Proposition 227. In 1998-99, 169,440 student received native-language instruction, down from 409,879 the previous year (California Department of Education). Hakuta et al. Found that Stanford 9 scores for LEP students in bilingual classrooms increased as much as, or more than, LEP students in other programs.

5. Proposition 227 has failed to teach students English within one year as promised. During the 1998 campaign, Ron Unz continually blasted California schools’ 93% "failure rate" in meeting this standard. That is, about 7% of LEP students were "redesignated" as fluent in English each year. In 1999, after one year of Proposition 227, what was the "redesignation rate"? -- It was 7.6% statewide, according to the California Department of Education. Virtually no change.

6. Several strict English-only districts had below average redesignation rates: Oceanside (6.6%), Orange Unified (5.4%), Westminster (2.5%). Meanwhile, several districts that continued bilingual education had above average redesignation rates: San Jose (7.7%), Los Angeles (9.9%), San Francisco (10.6%).