Bill would give dual immersion programs ability to test all students

Although an increasingly popular academic choice among parents in many affluent communities, two-way bilingual immersion programs have a problem when it comes time for testing.

Existing state law restricts the use of California Standards-based Tests translated into Spanish to English learner students who receive some or all of their instruction in Spanish or English-learner students who have been enrolled in public school less than 12 months.

That leaves out higher performing students still learning English and students whose native language is English.

Thus, educators running two-way bilingual immersion have limited ability to measure how well their Spanish-language curriculum is meeting the needs of students classified as redesignated fluent English-proficient and the native English speaking students.

Legislation approved Thursday by the state Assembly would allow two-way bilingual immersion schools to administer the standards-based test in primary languages to all their students.

Right now these schools are unable to offer the same standardized test to all of their students if they have different language classifications," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, author of AB 409.

"This makes it difficult for a school to compare academic data and achievement among all students," he said. "And worse, it makes it impossible to change the curriculum to help the students succeed."

Modeled after the French immersion programs developed in Canada in the 1960s, most of the programs in California are organized with a majority of the students English speaking and a minority of English-learners - thus both groups develop skills in bilingualism and biliteracy as well as cross-cultural attitudes.

According to the California Department of Education website, there are about 224 two-way programs in the state - the majority of them offering Spanish-English instruction but also many engaged in Korean-English and Mandarin-English.

Research has shown that the dual immersion programs can be very effective in both enhancing the learning experience of English-speaking students as well as bringing English-learners along more quickly into the mainstream. Many districts that offer the programs find waiting lists of parents wanting to enroll their children.

The problem, said the bill's author, comes when it is time to perform annual student testing as required under federal and state law.

By eliminating this prohibition and allowing dual immersion schools to use the Spanish translation of the California Standards Test, those schools will not only have the ability to better concentrate on academic instruction but also have data to better compare performance between the English-speaking students and those that speak Spanish.

The bill won passage off the Assembly floor with a vote of 42 to 24, mostly along party lines. The measure now goes to the state Senate.