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In Pennsylvania, Testing Standards Spawn Court Fight

PHILADELPHIA -- The state is failing the children in its fifth-largest school district, which has a large number of children who live in poverty and understand little English, by holding them to the same academic standards as their counterparts in wealthier districts, an attorney for the Reading School District argued yesterday.

"It's ludicrous to give our Spanish-speaking kids a test in English -- a test they cannot understand -- and then say that they failed it," attorney Richard L. Guida argued before a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel. "We're failing them ... It's not fair to the kids and it's not fair to the school district."

The Reading School District sued the state Department of Education in December, objecting to the state's classifying 13 of its 19 schools as failing to meet academic standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Education Department attorney Ann G. St. Ledger told the judges that the state's hands are somewhat tied because it must act within the guidelines outlined by the federal legislation. She also argued that the state has not had enough time to develop Spanish-language assessment tests but that it plans to do so.

The school district wants to prevent the state from imposing any sanctions until the department provides assessment tests in Spanish and until the district receives financial assistance that "fully funds" the cost of complying with the law.

Some of the 13 schools were placed on a school-improvement list, meaning they had failed to make "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years, while others were placed on a warning list for failing to meet the academic goals for the first time.

The school district also argues that the state Department of Education was providing no financial assistance to help them comply with requirements. Officials in Reading say 64 percent of the district's 16,000 students are Hispanic and 15 percent have limited English proficiency.

In Pennsylvania -- where results are measured through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests administered in grades five, eight and 11 -- officials have established that schools should start with at least 45 percent of students proficient in reading and 35 percent proficient in math.

"My concern is that this act doesn't deal with what it's supposed to correct," President Judge James Gardner Colins said.

Reading, the fifth-largest of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts, is the first to file a lawsuit contesting its schools' classifications under the act, which was signed by President Bush in 2002. It was unknown when the judges would issue a ruling.

— Joann Loviglio, The Associated Press


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