Joining a growing statewide controversy over California’s new educational testing system, the Orange Unified School District will send notices home next week telling parents they can pull their children out of the tests if they want.
Under pressure from conservative and religious groups who charge that CLAS examines emotions instead of intellect and promotes anti-family values, Orange joined the Saddleback Unified School District and several others throughout the state in allowing parents to opt out.
The state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, also decided Friday to give parents that option.
State law requires districts to administer the tests, but whether officials can require all students to take the tests is currently at issue in various pending court fights.
Hours before Orange Unified trustees voted 5-2 late Thursday night to send home the notices, the State Department of Education notified school officials across California that such actions are permitted. In addition, state officials said Thursday that districts should make sample exam questions available to parents for scrutiny.
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.
“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 a lawsuit on behalf of two West Hills parents. “Children learn from their families, and the school board shouldn’t interfere with that.”
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,” Dawson said.
Martin Jacobson, the Orange school board member who sponsored the resolution Thursday night, said he believes parents should have a right to see tests their children take and that if the tests remain secret, children should not have to take them.
“I don’t have anything against the test. I haven’t seen it so I can’t really render a judgment,” Jacobson said Friday. “If a parent wants to preview a test, they should have the right to do it.”
Jacobson and other board members who voted for the resolution, however, admitted that if many parents opt out, the tests’ ability to measure performance of a school or district will be skewed.
“I’m not out to destroy the test, I’m just out to be fair to parents,” he said. “That’s a higher priority. If in the process the test is not accepted, well, the first priority is giving the parents the say-so they deserve.”
The district is scheduled to begin administering the California Learning Assessment System tests to fourth-, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders next week.
Gary Thomason, 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.”