Court Cases Loom Over California Tests

K-12 Testing

San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has filed suit in federal court seeking to block the state's requirement to test, in grades 2 - 11, all students who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP). The state exam is a version of the all-multiple-choice, norm-referenced Stanford Achievement Test-9.


District superintendent Waldemar Rojas termed the lack of an exception for LEP students "flat-out cruel, unnecessary, meaningless" and "a test that knowingly violates the civil rights of my students."


The state's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program was pushed through the legislature last year by Gov. Pete Wilson (see Examiner, Winter 1997-98). It mandates that students with LEP must take the test, even if they read no English. An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle compared testing these students to giving students who speak only English tests of subject matter written in Greek: "Tears, panic and humiliation would not be unrealistic responses from the test-takers."


About one in four California students speaks little or no English. Wilson argues that the scores will provide baseline data for measuring progress, regardless of the amount of English a student knows.


San Francisco's complaint seeks a court injunction ordering the state not to require administration of the test in English to LEP students. As relevant precedent, SFUSD points to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, which held, in Castaneda v. Pickard, that it is a violation of the Equal Edu-cational Opportunities Act to test students who are not yet literate in English with an English-language standard-ized achievement test.


To force compliance, the state has sued the district in state court and has threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funds from the district. However, U.S. Ass't Secretary of Education Gerald Tirozzi wrote the state to explain it does not have the right to withhold federal funds to enforce compliance with state law.


San Francisco had the state's complaint transferred to federal court, where a judge will de-cide whether to hear that case or send it back to state court. The city's motion for an in-junction will be heard on May 22. Legislation has been filed to modify STAR to address the needs of students with LEP by not mandating testing in English until students have been in U.S. schools for 30 months. Gov. Wilson, however, may well veto it if it passes.