PA District Loses Case on Tests
HARRISBURG - The Reading School District, which challenged its performance rating in part because some Spanish-speaking students cannot read tests written in English, lost a Commonwealth Court case yesterday.
The district sued in December to dispute a state Education Department finding that 13 of its 19 schools failed to meet benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The district contended that the state test used to measure performance should be made available in Spanish and that the state did not provide enough money for the district to comply with the standards.
A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel ruled that testing in a student's native language is required only "to the extent that it is practicable to do so." About two-thirds of Reading's 16,000 students are Hispanic, and 15 percent have limited proficiency in English.
President Judge James Gardner Colins also wrote in a 12-page unanimous opinion that the level of state support for the district was irrelevant to its evaluation of the district's progress and that the district did not prove it needed more money to comply.
"The district maintains that it cannot afford to fund these improvements, but the district has not presented any evidence demonstrating that the funds currently available to it are not adequate to pay for its school improvement measures," Colins wrote.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools are required to meet proficiency standards in reading and math. The consequences for not meeting those standards increase in severity over time.
Reading School District attorney Richard L. Guida said he was disappointed in the judges' ruling. "As the law stands now in Pennsylvania, kids who don't speak English will continue to be given tests they can't read, which they will predictably fail," he said.
The Education Department issued a two-sentence statement indicating it was "obviously pleased" with the ruling but said no one was available for comment yesterday.
The No Child Left Behind standards are "unfair and unrealistic," particularly for struggling districts such as Reading's, said Mark P. Widoff, general counsel for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. The state's largest teachers' union filed a friend-of-the court brief supporting the district.
The case was the first challenge to the Education Department's evaluation of schools under No Child Left Behind to reach Commonwealth Court. Guida said he would recommend the school board appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Mark Scolforo, Associated Press
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