Teachers at two Santa Clarita Valley schools plan to apply part of the controversial California Learning Assessment System test toward students' English grades, but there will be no penalty for students not taking the exam.
Officials at William S. Hart High School and Castaic Middle School said that a great deal of time is spent teaching students skills used during the five-day test, and that the grades will allow immediate assessment of their progress.
"I think the students should have something to show for all the work they've done this week," said Alison Hunsaker, the sole eighth-grade teacher at Castaic Middle School whose students are taking the CLAS test this week.
But officials at three other Santa Clarita Valley school districts, which include only elementary schools, said they do not plan to grade students on the CLAS test.
"I'm not sure it's an appropriate use of this test, or any test, to make it a part of the ongoing, everyday assessment of a child," said Robert Nolet, superintendent of the Sulphur Springs Union School District. "Teachers have lots of other tools that are probably more meaningful."
The Saugus Union School District may incorporate problem-solving questions based on the CLAS test into traditional evaluation exams, allowing parents to see the questions and voice any objections, Supt. Troy Bramlett said. Grading would probably be based on how well a student could back up his or her opinion with research and logic, he added.
"If that is part of what society is asking children to demonstrate, then our teachers better prepare our students for that," he said.
Hart is the only school within the six-campus William S. Hart Union High School District grading students taking the CLAS test, and Castaic Middle School is the only campus in the three-school Castaic Union School District doing so.
Critics say the CLAS test--given to fourth-, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students--contains essay questions challenging authority and traditional family values. State education officials are keeping the questions and students' answers on the test confidential so that the same test can be used in future years.
Hunsaker said her students' grades on a 45-minute portion of the essay exam will not be influenced by the opinions they express.
"I'm going to use the same criteria that I use for any student essay in class--whether they followed the instructions given in the prompt and how clearly they convey their message," she said.
Hart High School, where students are also taking the test this week, has been planning since March to grade 10th-grade students on both the essay and reading comprehension portions of the CLAS test, said Gary Wexler, curriculum director for the Hart district.
He said district officials believe that the state Department of Education approved the school's plans, but the decision will be verified in light of the recent controversy about the test.
"If the state Department of Education says, 'Whoa. With all the commotion going on, please hold on and don't do it,' than we wouldn't," he said.
Susie Lang, spokeswoman for the education department, said she is uncertain if schools are allowed to grade students on the reading comprehension portion of the test. She said grading the written essays is permissible.
Eighth-grade teachers may make copies of the test for grading, but teachers with CLAS students at other grade levels are only allowed to study the completed exams and make notes--keeping the questions and answers confidential--before sending them to the state, officials said. Hunsaker said her copies will be shredded after they are reviewed.
Officials at both schools said the graded portion of the CLAS test will represent the same portion of each student's overall grade as other major exams--about 50 out of 300 total points at Castaic Middle School, for example. Students exempted from the CLAS test by their parents will be allowed to take a substitute exam next week.
Seven of the 160 eighth-grade students at Castaic Middle School have been exempted from the exam, and parents of two students who did take the test have requested that their children's answers not be graded, Principal Beverly Silsbee said.
Hart High officials estimate that fewer than 20 of the more than 500 10th-grade students have been exempted from the test.