Evaluating the CLAS Exam Controversy

* As an English teacher who gave 147 California Learning Assessment System reading and writing tests to 10th-graders two weeks ago, I was outraged to read the action of the Newport-Mesa School District trustees. According to "School Trustees Vote to Postpone State CLAS Tests" (May 7), these trustees agreed that they would not reveal the literary contents of these sealed tests and then proceeded to do so "for the public's right to know."

My students and I cry "foul" and unfair advantage! In pandering to the religious right, the board is exhibiting behavior of lying and cheating. None of my students were offended while taking the test and many of my English as a Second Language students were able to make connections during the Group Work between their personal lives and the literary piece. In doing so, they demonstrated a higher order of thinking skills and writing fluency.

The purpose of the CLAS test is not to snoop into family life or to evaluate individual student scores, but to see if educators are reaching the myriad ethnic and language groups in our public schools. Now that the Newport-Mesa trustees have sabotaged the security of the sealed, state-mandated exams, they may consider refusing to accept state financing of their schools.

KAREN R. SPEROS

Irvine

* California school districts, as well as those across the nation, are facing enormous problems. Most of us are aware of that fact. Parent participation is at an all-time high. Even business people, concerned about their future employees, are willing to spend time and money to help.

If there were ever a time of urgent need for all of us to get involved with education, it's now, and that's what makes the backers of this new CLAS testing system so offensive.

Isn't it just a little frightening to have a school principal refuse to discuss a test in terms of what type of questions and general content? C'mon, get real. What's going on?

Given the fact of what is currently taught in school, I believe we can look forward to a generation that may not read too well, but they will be able to quote chapter and verse on how to use a condom.

The CLAS people and teachers are not all to blame though. It's parents who give up too easy, feeling that the school knows best. Forget that, Mom and Dad , no one knows what's better for your kid than you and don't forget it.

BILL HENRIETTA

Santa Ana

* Milton Rouse (Letters, May 8) defends CLAS, saying testing that asks students to express their feelings is a step toward a meaningful education. He said that the number of facts students know are meaningless, but how they feel about these facts and use them is more important.

There is some truth in this, but this is inserting into our public schools a definite concept of moral values.

Now, normally, I would say this is good, but since our Supreme Court does not allow Judeo-Christian values (like God and prayer) in our public schools, it certainly is not fair to allow the humanistic "religion of feelings" to be presented.

This tears down the values of absolute right and wrong, which are not subject to how students "feel," and assaults parents' authority.

My definition of a meaningful education includes family and religious values, but they are illegal in public schools. Therefore, tests should be only on the three Rs and all those other meaningless facts. Students should be asked what 2 plus 2 equals--not how they feel about 2 plus 2.

PAUL A. FEEGER

Placentia

* I am greatly concerned by the CLAS controversy. I admit that I certainly have not seen the test. My only knowledge comes from excerpts printed in The Times, but what I read not only seems acceptable but an absolutely marvelous example of how students' minds should be stretched by critical judgment and launched into the joy of speaking and writing with conviction and clarity.

As a former high school English teacher who was often disillusioned by some of my colleagues almost exclusive use of multiple choice, fill in the blank, and matching questions, I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read the questions posed after the section from Wright's "Black Boy." What a wonderful example of how to make reading a meaningful, challenging and transforming experience.

I am deeply concerned when we seem afraid to develop critical thinking in our children. Unfortunately, our society suffers in the long run when we have voters who can't sort out facts from hype, who follow the demagoguery of the moment's hot issues, who can't separate their own feelings and prejudices from their responsibility to the greater good.

Arguing that challenging students to think about their own values and life experiences invades their privacy is like the argument of the school districts that refuse funding for breakfast for hungry children because that would usurp the family role.

CLAS tests are only a year old. As with all testing instruments, it undoubtedly needs to be refined and improved. It shouldn't be derailed by those who fear any challenge to their own corner on the truth.

JEAN FORBATH

Costa Mesa

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