Search form

Will STAR 2000 Kill Bilingual Education?

Share School Issues CenterOpponents of bilingual education say recently released test results prove that students learn best when they learn in English. Proponents of bilingual education say test results are non-conclusive and bilingual education still provides the best chance for long-term academic success. Who is right? You be the judge! Included: The results of the latest California testing!

Do you think students learn best in bilingual classes or in English-only programs? Share your thoughts and experiences on today's Education World message board.
"The good news is that results for our English learners (students who have limited English skills), although lower than results for English-proficient students, increased in almost all subjects and grade levels." California state superintendent of public education, Delaine Eastin, made that announcement in a recent press release about the state's latest STAR (Standardized Testing And Reporting) results. Eastin's statement was a shot in the arm for proponents of Proposition 227, a bill that passed just two years ago. It stated that "all children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English." Proposition 227 requires that students who previously learned core subjects in their native languages now study those subjects in English instead.

Many educators and political leaders warned that the passage of Proposition 227 would be a catastrophe for the one in four California students who do not speak English as their primary language. The opponents of bilingual education cite the STAR results as proof that those warnings were misguided and that bilingual education is not the best way for students to learn English -- or other academic subjects.


The STAR program, now in its third year in California, tested students in grades 2 through 8 in reading, written expression, spelling, and mathematics. Students in grades 9 through 12 took tests in reading, writing, math, history and social sciences, and science. Because California law requires that the STAR results be broken down for a variety of subgroups, it is possible to isolate results for students with limited English proficiency. Those results show that the number of second-grade students with limited English proficiency who scored above the 50th percentile increased by

  • 6 percent in reading
  • 5 percent in language
  • 7 percent in math
  • 7 percent in spelling.
The average reading score for second graders increased by 9 percentage points, and the average math score increased by 14 percentage points.

Although the increases were most significant in the lower grades, the number of seventh-grade students with limited English proficiency who scored above the 50th percentile also increased -- by 2 percent in language, reading, and spelling and by 3 percent in math. The number of 11th-grade students who scored above the 50th percentile increased by 1 percent in language and mathematics and remained the same in reading, science, and social science.

Despite the fears of academic disaster expressed by opponents of Proposition 227, the number of students scoring above the 50th percentile did not fall at any grade level in any subject area.

What Is Bilingual Education?

Bilingual education is a dual-language program in which students who have limited proficiency in English

* Learn core subjects in their native language.

* Learn to read and write first in their native language and then in English.

* Begin learning English from the time they enter school.

* Perceive their culture as an integral part of their education.

Source: Bilingual Education, from the Department of Bilingual Education at the University of Texas College of Education


"The STAR results are a clear indication that we can teach children who have limited English proficiency -- and teach them well -- in English," Ron K. Unz, a driving force behind the anti-bilingual movement, told Education World. Supporters of bilingual education claimed that even if students taught in English learned English better, their academic progress in other subject areas would fall dramatically, Unz noted. "In fact," he said, "test scores in California went up more rapidly in mathematics than they did in English.

"In California, teachers have been the biggest critics and skeptics of bilingual education," Unz added. "Bilingual educational was a fad based on no research. It never worked well, and its future, based on these latest test results, is a lack of existence."

John B. Mockler, California's interim education secretary, for one, begs to differ. Mockler attributes the gains in STAR scores to a number of separate education reforms implemented last year. Those include a reduction in class size at the primary level, a back to basics movement, the return to a phonics-based reading program, and the provision of incentives for teachers who agree to work in disadvantaged areas.

Test scores, bilingual education supporters point out, are up across the board. The increases are not limited to students with limited English proficiency.

Whatever the reasons for the rise in test scores, the results of this year's STAR are likely to have repercussions beyond the state of California. This November, Arizona voters will decide on a proposition to end bilingual education in that state. A number of other states are considering similar bills.

Editor's Note: The press office at The National Association of Bilingual Education failed to respond to numerous Education World requests for reaction to the California test results. U.S. Department of Education spokespersons declined to comment until they've "had more time to review the test results."


  • Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 This act authorized federal funding for bilingual programs.
  • History of Bilingual Education Rethinking Schools provides a history of bilingual education, beginning with an 1839 law providing bilingual education for German-speaking students.
  • California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) This site provides information on bilingual education programs in California.
  • English for the Children This organization, founded to ensure the passage of Proposition 227, provides information opposing bilingual education.
  • National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) This site provides resources for bilingual educators.
  • Bilingual Education The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education provides a number of links to bilingual education-related sites of interest.
  • Bilingual Education Ohio University offers general information, both pro and con, on bilingual education.

    Linda Starr
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2000 Education World

    Related Articles from Education World

    Please check out our featured theme this week: