Print this Article

Sen. Romero Calls for Changes in Testing of California's English Learners

By Jeff Hudson - May 18, 2009

Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, spoke at a rally in San Francisco on Monday, calling for fair enforcement of federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing requirements in a case challenging the state's refusal to test subject matter proficiency of California’s 1.6 million English Learner (EL) students in their native languages.

Speaking on the steps of the Earl Warren State Building, Romero said “We gather here today on the steps of the courthouse—the halls of justice—to advocate for the rights of English Learner students to have equal access to a quality education. We ask for nothing more than for public schools to help these children succeed and achieve the American dream.”

NCLB requires states to test EL students in a valid and reliable manner that measures academic progress while students are still learning English.  Currently, California policy requires testing ELs in English to determine subject matter proficiency. 

Just after the noontime rally at which Romero spoke on Monday, the California Appellate Court (First Appellate District) took up a case brought by the Coachella Valley Unified School District (which has 18,200 students), along with the Chula Vista Elementary School District (27,000 students), Alisal Union School District (7,500 students), Terra Bella Union Elementary School District (900 students), Pajaro Valley Unified School District (19,000 students), Oxnard Elementary School District (15,400 students), Sweetwater Union High School District (42,000 students), Salinas Union High School District(13,400 students) and San Ysidro Elementary School District (4,800 students).

These districts – spread over northern and southern California – claim that testing ELs in English yields inaccurate and unfair assessments of actual student understanding and makes schools with high EL populations improperly subject to sanctions as “failing” schools.

“California's testing of English Learners is neither valid nor reliable,” said attorney Mary Hernandez of Garcia Calderón Ruíz LLP, one of three law firms representing plaintiffs in the suit. “A victory in court today would confirm that California does not have discretion to ignore federal mandates and that its obligation under NCLB can be enforced.”

California has more ELs than any other state in the nation.  Of the 6 million children in California public schools, nearly 25 percent are ELs.  About 85 percent of California ELs speak Spanish as their primary language, with four Asian dialects the next most common native languages.

“California's testing system ignores federal law and leaves more than 1.6 million English Learner students behind,” said Romero.  “Justice is sought today in a court of law because it could not be found in our public education system.  I implore the Governor, California Department of Education, and the State Board of Education to require testing that is fair to all children.”

In its June 2008 Biennial Report to Congress on the Implementation of Title III, the U.S. Department of Education indicated that a total of eleven states reported having provided tests of at least one academic content area in a language other than English to improve the validity of English Learner test scores.  Those states include:  Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“Throughout our history, public education has played a key role in unifying diverse cultures and enabling millions of children of immigrants to find their way into the middle class,” said Romero. “Education is the great equalizer because it gives every child from every background a chance to succeed.  But a testing system that unfairly labels our EL children as failing is not helping them succeed.”

Romero is a candidate in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2010.

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.