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California and the West

Judge Indicates Release of Test Scores Is Imminent

Hearing: Though a formal order has not been signed, state expects to publish school-by-school Stanford 9 results soon.

July 17, 1998|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A judge signaled Thursday that he will allow the state to publish full school-by-school scores from the new statewide achievement tests, including the results of students not fluent in English.

The disclosure by San Francisco Superior Court Judge David A. Garcia promises an end to the court-ordered delay that resulted last month when Bay Area school districts alleged that release of the scores would discriminate against the non-fluent students.

But it remained unclear Thursday as to when the public will be able to see how the state's 1,000 school districts and 8,000 schools rated on the Stanford 9 tests of reading, mathematics and other basic skills.

That's because Garcia, by the end of the day, had not yet signed a formal order in the case, in which the Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco school districts raised other issues as well, such as whether the state can require that scores from the tests be logged in the academic files of limited-English students.

State officials said that as soon as they receive the official go-ahead from the court, they will be able to put the scores on the Internet within a matter of hours. Originally, the scores were to be posted June 30.

Garcia previewed his ruling in an exchange with attorneys during a court hearing. At one point, he raised doubt that a judge "could ever preclude the state from publishing what's a matter of public record."

At another point, as the top lawyer for the Department of Education launched into an argument in favor of release of all scores, Garcia said: "I don't think we're addressing that any more."

Attorneys for both sides agreed afterward that the judge's mind appeared set on the issue. He had issued a tentative ruling Wednesday coming to the same conclusion.

The final ruling would culminate three weeks of effort by the state to end a temporary restraining order issued June 25 by another San Francisco judge who was filling in for Garcia. Thursday's hearing was on whether Garcia should grant the school districts a preliminary injunction.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Doug Stone, called the delay "a huge curveball" in the state's plans to give a report card on the public school system.

Indeed, the state so far has only made public a summary of how English-fluent students--and a sizable number of others whose language abilities were unknown--performed on the tests. It showed that students at most grade levels were close to the national average, but that high school students were well below par in reading.

However, the summary omitted the one in five test takers who were identified as not fluent in English, and their scores were expected to make the state look worse in comparison to the rest of the nation. California has far more limited-English students than any other state, and the national group used for comparison--serving as the basis for percentile rankings--included very few such students.

Local school officials have been free to release whatever scores they wish, including those of limited-English students. The Los Angeles Unified School District released its scores earlier this week.

Behind the court battle over the test scores is a struggle to influence public perceptions of public schools.

Some educators believe that Gov. Pete Wilson, who championed the test, is seeking to depict the school system in a harsh light in order to build support for reforms such as vouchers, the controversial grants that would pay for private school tuition.

Wilson spokesman Sean Walsh said the governor is optimistic that full results will now be released.

"It is our hope that parents, principals and districts will [then] be able to assess what programs are working for their children, what programs are not. And then the necessary changes can be made to improve overall education in our state," Walsh said.

An attorney for the Oakland and Berkeley school systems conceded Thursday that Garcia's final ruling would allow the state to publish the full scores. But Laura Schulkind said the delay nonetheless had advanced the interests of hundreds of thousands of minority students.

"Every major newspaper in the state of California has carried on its front page that there are some questions about whether the scores mean anything," Schulkind said. "Scores are going to be published in a much different context."

Thursday's hearing marked the second legal setback in as many days for bilingual education advocates. On Wednesday, a federal judge refused to block the implementation of Proposition 227, the initiative approved by voters last month that eliminates most bilingual programs in the state.

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