Tuesday was a day of vindication in the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified and Antelope Valley Union High school districts.
After months of controversy and court dates, board members from the two districts said Gov. Pete Wilson's veto of the CLAS legislation proved they were not "isolated extremists" and that students throughout the state will be better off without the controversial exams.
The two districts--out of a half-dozen statewide--refused to administer the tests last spring because the school boards believed the exams promoted anti-family values and invaded the students' privacy.
"I think the people of the state of California have spoken," said Billy Pricer, president of the Antelope Valley high school district that was the first in the state to refuse to give the tests last April. "It was a poor example of a test. I think it's a tremendous decision by the governor today."
While most of the districts were ordered by the courts to give the tests before school ended last June, the Acton-Agua Dulce district never did administer it, officials said. "I think this was a very courageous decision on the governor's part," said Laurie Browing, the school board president. "I'm thrilled there will be some sensibility and that the program will be re-evaluated."
Added Antelope Valley Union Supt. Robert Girolamo: "I think it (the CLAS test) needs to go back to the drawing boards and get a better broad base (of support) from the community and the education experts."
Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education, said the critics are mistaking the governor's position and that the test will return--but in a slightly different format. "I think they are misrepresenting what he did," Lange said. "The whole hysteria died down after people saw it wasn't the social engineering, family-torturing and mutilating that people thought."
The California Learning Assessment System tests, which were given statewide for the first time last spring, came under fire from parents and religious groups who believed the exams denigrated family values. Opponents launched vociferous attacks on the testing system, packing school board meetings in some districts and even filing lawsuits across the state to prevent students from taking the tests.
State education officials and some legislators, however, lauded the exams as revolutionary new measures of students' academic skills. After saying for months that the tests must be kept secret, the state released the tests publicly this summer to allay concerns about their content.
In addition, the state allowed districts to exempt students whose parents objected to the tests.
Several hundred parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in the state, refused to allow their children to take the controversial tests. But the Los Angeles school board, which was sued by a group representing two San Fernando Valley parents, held firm in its support for the new tests after reviewing them in closed session.
"I'm very frustrated by the governor's performance throughout this controversy," said Mark Slavkin, the LAUSD board president. "It appears he's become hostage of an education agenda . . . by the religious right."
Bill Olenick, an Antelope Valley Union High School District board member who consistently voted against the board majority, said the exams became a political litmus test.
"It became a political football," Olenick said. "Pete Wilson would like to ingratiate himself with the conservative right. I think this was very, very shortsighted."
But to the CLAS critics, the governor's action was a courageous response to a testing system that left many parents questioning the public education system. Board members in Antelope Valley and Acton-Agua Dulce said they believed the tests asked too many open-ended questions and that answers were too subjective. The tests have few multiple-choice questions and allow students to write essays and share ideas and information.
"The system did not test students' skills," said Sue Stokka, a board member of the Antelope Valley Union High School District. "It represents a process that's really social engineering and that's not appropriate. It completely eliminated individuality and that's not American."