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California and the West

State Sues S.F. Schools Over Exam

Education: District, which has refused to give test to limited-English students, says it is discriminatory.

April 03, 1998|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The state sued San Francisco's public school district Thursday for its refusal to administer California's new standardized achievement test to students with limited English skills.

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, represents the toughest move yet by State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin in demanding that California schools comply with a state requirement that all students in grades 2 through 11 take the test.

A spokesman for Eastin, who opposed the legislation last year setting up the mandatory statewide exam, said she "feels the pain" in filing the suit against the San Francisco Unified School District. But "as state superintendent, she has to uphold the law--she has no other choice," spokesman Doug Stone said.

San Francisco Supt. of Schools Bill Rojas said Eastin, a Democrat, was "simply responding to pressure from the [Republican] Wilson administration to enforce a state policy that she herself [opposes]. . . . It is unconscionable to administer a test that knowingly denies the basic civil rights of my students."

Rojas said the district continues to oppose administering the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program to its 5,740 students designated as having limited English proficiency. The San Francisco schools are scheduled to give the exam between May 4 and May 22.

A hearing on the state's bid to force the testing is scheduled for Thursday. The San Francisco district, meanwhile, has filed its own suit, in federal court, complaining that it is discriminatory, and a violation of civil rights, to evaluate a student's achievement based on administration of a test that he or she cannot read.

Current plans, a spokesman for the district said, are to administer another test with a Spanish-language counterpart to students needing a translation to understand questions in math and science.

Several districts up and down the state have openly criticized the test, which was pushed by Gov. Pete Wilson as a way to measure the performance of students and schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District has started sending waiver forms to parents that would enable their children to avoid the test. Officials in San Diego and south Orange County say they will advise students who speak limited English not to fill out the exam if they don't fully understand it.

San Francisco, however, is the only district known to have explicitly exempted such students. And with more than 4 million California students expected to take the exam, Stone said, state officials are worried that other districts may also balk if it succeeds.

"The message has to be unequivocal that this is the law," Stone said, "and we expect all 1,000 districts to administer the test."

Although Eastin is bringing San Francisco to court on this issue, Stone noted that she often cites the district for its strong academic achievements, including high graduation requirements. She also said the district's recent decision to include minority authors on required reading lists was "a good idea," but not the way the district implemented it.

The courts are not the only battleground for the testing issue.

In the Legislature, Assemblywoman Carole Migden, (D-San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would exempt students with weak English skills from taking the state test for the first 3 1/2 years of their instruction. The bill has passed initial committee hearings.

Although administration officials have opposed the measure in its present form, proponents and opponents "are still talking" in an attempt to reach an accord, a legislative aide said.

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