The state's embattled student testing program drew about 800 mostly disgruntled parents and grandparents from as far as Riverside and San Diego counties this week at a hearing held by Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress).
Many people at the Huntington Beach City School District board room Thursday evening said they were concerned with the confidential nature of the California Learning Assessment System tests.
"What are they hiding? A test that has this type of secrecy has no integrity," said John Fulce, whose fourth-grade son goes to school in Fountain Valley.
Allen, who moderated the three-hour meeting, said the test strays from its original intention, written into 1991 legislation, which was to measure critical thinking skills.
"In my opinion, we missed the mark," she said.
Allen also complained that she was treated as a "spy from another country" when she asked the state Board of Education if she could see a copy of the test.
"To this day, the Department of Education has not delivered me a piece of the test," she said. "The legislature needs to see what they are voting on before spending about $35 million on it."
The state Department of Education has kept the copyrighted tests, like other standardized exams, confidential to protect the fairness and effectiveness of the tests. But the board, reacting to criticism, decided Friday to make the tests public after the current exam cycle ends in mid-June.
The California Learning Assessment System test asks students to write about their reactions to literature selections. Critics contend the questions probe students' personal beliefs about sex, family life and morality.
Panelists on Thursday included people from both sides of the issue.
Sherry Loofbourrow, president of California School Boards Assn., said the test is like a building that has taken several years to construct and has several broken windows.
"We need to replace these broken windows, not take a wrecking ball to the whole building," said Loofbourrow, who is also a member of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board.
Another panelist, Joan Wonsley, a parent whose children attend Orange County schools, said she wants students "to be tested on what they know, not what they feel, and teachers to be teachers, not coaches and facilitators." She received a standing ovation.
The Fullerton School District has decided to defy the state mandate and not give the tests at all, and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will give them to eighth- and 10th-graders with parental permission only.
A Los Angeles judge this week ruled that the CLAS tests do not invade students' privacy and therefore do not violate state code.
Allen, who has been an outspoken critic of the test, held the hearing because both her local and state offices have been deluged with phone calls from parents with questions, according to one of her staff members.