California's Education Laws and Proposition 227

In 1998, California voters enacted Proposition 227, the "English Language in Public Schools" initiative codified at Education Code section 300 et seq. This legislation declares that "all children in California public schools shall be taught English as rapidly and effectively as possible." (Ed. Code, 300, subd. (f).) Under this new imperative, all public school students are to be "taught English by being taught in English," subject to the right of parents to seek a waiver from this requirement. (Id., 305.) Prior to passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA), the California Legislature established the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program and enacted the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, as well as legislation calling for development of a high school exit examination. (Stats. 1997, ch. 828, 11 see current Ed. Code, 60640 et seq.; STAR Program; Ed. Code, 52050 et seq. Public Schools Accountability Act, 60850, 60851 high school exit exam.) The present STAR Program uses an assessment instrument known as the California Standards Tests (CST) to measure how well students are achieving the state's content and performance standards in grades two through 11. (Id., 60642.5, subd. (a).) The CST is only administered in English. In turn the high school exit exam measures the skills and knowledge students must demonstrate in English in order to earn a high school diploma; by statute it is administered in English. (Id., 60852.) Successful passage of the high school exit exam debuted as a condition of high school graduation commencing with the 2003-2004 school year. (Id., 60851, subd. (a).) In order to measure the academic achievement of students, schools and districts over time, the Public Schools Accountability Act provides for an Academic Performance Index (Ed. Code, 52052) consisting of a variety of indicators including the results of achievement tests, attendance rates, and graduation rates (id., 52052, subd. (a)(4)). Together, the Academic Performance Index, the CST and the high school exit exam form the lynchpin of California's statewide system of academic assessments and accountability. Educational Testing Service (ETS) has been the test contractor for both the CST and the high school exit exam. ETS management has indicated that the service works closely with the State Board and CDE on testing issues relating to English learners. In developing the CST and high school exit exam for California, ETS staff was aware of and incorporated principles of "universal design" theory. As explained in an internal ETS report, whereas most tests currently are designed "in ways that limit the means of recognition, expression and engagement available to students," the tenets of universal design assert that "the means available to a student within a learning environment should be available within an assessment environment." Thus, as an example pertaining to test development, universal design tenets would encourage elimination of unnecessary linguistic complexity. ETS test development staff employ a number of procedures designed to reduce any avoidable disadvantages to English language learners. Test items are subject to multiple reviews for clarity of phrasing as well as bias and sensitivity, and in order to reduce inappropriate linguistic complexity and linguistic bias. These efforts include reducing excessive wordiness and the length of sentences and paragraphs; avoiding unusual words, multiple-meaning words and irregularly spelled words; avoiding the use of several names for the same concept; and using typeface and graphic strategies to signal the relative importance of information. ETS instructs its test developers to generally avoid unnecessarily difficult language and "to use the simplest and most straightforward language consistent with valid measurement to help avoid construct-irrelevant difficulty for test takers who are not native speakers of English ... ." ETS standards call for the test development teams to reduce threats to validity that might arise from language differences. The service also trains the assessment review panels to recognize and comment on unnecessary linguistic complexity, and to ensure that items are fair for English learners. Following each test administration, all test items are evaluated for item quality and possible bias against or unfairness to English learners and others.