An examination of California Stanford 9 test results released last week reveals that English learners in grades 2 through 8 have made strong gains in reading, math and language skills for the third straight year since California eliminated bilingual education. The improvements continue to be most impressive among younger students. The state’s lowest-performing students, meanwhile, also improved at a substantial rate in all three subjects since they started learning in English. In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, which effectively replaced bilingual education with English immersion classes. The latest results offer evidence that California’s English immersion programs are succeeding much as advocates of the new law had predicted.
Second-grade English learners improved their reading scores three percentile points last year and 12 points over three years. Similarly, third-grade language scores improved three points last year and 13 points over three years. Math scores in grades 2 through 6 actually showed the most improvement: up 17 points in second grade, 18 points in third, and at least 10 points in grades 4 through 6 over the 3 years, and 3 points or more last year.
Also noteworthy are the gains made by students near the bottom of the class. As the attached chart shows, over the last three years the percentage of California English learners scoring above the 25th percentile of the national sample has soared in all three subjects. For example, 21% of second grade English learners have moved out of the bottom quarter of the national average in reading, 23% of third grade English learners in math have escaped the bottom quarter, and 21% of third grade English learners have risen above the bottom quarter in language arts.
The news is not all rosy. In addition to California’s problems with high school students, whose scores, including those of English learners, were stagnant or even declined last year, there is a continuing, alarming gap in scores between English learners and students fluent in English. The gap appears in all subjects and grade levels. In second grade reading, for instance, the average percentile ranking for California English learners was 31, while it was 60 for students fluent in English. Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Chuck Weis suggested one important factor that likely contributes to this statistical gap, observing to the Los Angeles Times that scores for English learners are artificially deflated because after students become fluent in English, they are removed from the “English learner” category. But clearly after 30 years of bilingual education, there is much ground that needs to be made up.
These results take on added importance in Massachusetts and Colorado, where voters next year may face similar ballot proposals to replace bilingual programs with English immersion, and in Arizona, where such an initiative passed last year.
Don Soifer is Executive Vice President of the Lexington Institute. His email address is email@example.com.
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