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L.A. Schools to Allow State Test Exemptions : Education: Parents will be given choice on whether their children will take performance exams.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said Friday they will allow parents to exempt their children from taking state-mandated performance tests that have been praised for raising standards but attacked by some who say the questions are anti-family and inappropriate for children.

Bill Rivera, spokesman for the state’s largest school district, said the decision was reached before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Friday exempted two San Fernando Valley students from taking the exams. Judge Robert H. O’Brien also demanded a copy of the tests to determine whether other students should be exempted.

Parents and religious groups have filed lawsuits to prevent the California Learning Assessment System tests from being administered to nearly all students in the fourth, fifth, eighth and 10th grades. The critics complain that the exams invade students’ privacy rather than measure academic achievement.

“Our purpose is to make sure that children are not questioned about their personal beliefs or family life,” said Bob Levy, a Woodland Hills attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of two West Hills parents. “Children learn from their families and the school board shouldn’t interfere with that.”

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State education chief William D. Dawson said Friday that some critics are deceiving the public about the exams, which he defended.

“Many of the tactics being used by those engaged in lawsuits and spreading misinformation about the contents of the CLAS exam are, in my view, intended to destroy performance-based assessment, and to discredit the public schools, rather than to cause any kind of constructive change,” said Dawson, the acting superintendent of public instruction.

State education officials notified districts Thursday that they could allow parents to opt out of the tests. School districts also were told to let parents review sample copies of the tests.

Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the Los Angeles school district was free to give parents an option. “We assume the majority of the kids will take it,” Lange said. “The test is moving ahead. Hundreds of kids have already taken it. We intend to score them.”

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Districts scattered statewide have been confronted with potential court battles from exam critics. The Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District late Thursday night became the second in the state, following the lead of the Antelope Valley Union High School District, to refuse to give the tests.

In Orange County, Orange Unified also agreed this week to allow parents to remove their children from CLAS testing, although a handful of students in other districts have skipped the tests this spring because of parental protests.

In the Los Angeles district, board members said they will probably review the CLAS tests in a closed session to better understand parents’ concerns.

“It’s really hard for me to make an informed decision about it until I see it,” board member Mark Slavkin said. “I don’t want to create the impression that testing kids is something parents should fear exposing their children to. I think the CLAS test is a step in the right direction . . . but it’s been shrouded in secrecy.”

Lange said the tests are available to school board members--who must review them in closed sessions--but cannot be released to the public. She said the tests are considered a trade secret and that their release could violate copyright and other laws.

The CLAS exams, mandated by the state Legislature as part of education reform, are used to compare student work in each school against tough statewide performance standards in reading, writing, math and other subjects. The students are required to answer essay questions and are allowed to discuss material before answering questions.

Critics have complained that the tests are inappropriate for young children and do not measure academics, but rather politically correct thinking.

“Who’s to determine what is politically correct--it’s all opinion,” said Debbie Greenfield, whose son is in the fourth grade at Justice Street Elementary in West Hills and who was named in the lawsuit. “This type of testing belongs on the college level. These kids cannot be expected to answer these questions.”

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Gary Thomason, whose son is in the fifth grade at Justice and who also was named in the lawsuit, said the tests clearly do not measure students’ academic achievement.

“This has nothing to do with academics and it’s not pass-fail,” Thomason said. “You don’t have to be a person of any religious following to see that this is tracking what’s going on in kids’ homes.”

Times correspondent Sharon Moeser also contributed to this story.


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