Advertisement

Governor Signs Bill to Replace Controversial CLAS Test : Education: Despite objections within his own party, Wilson moves toward alternative to program that many parents criticized as invasion of privacy.

Share
TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday bucked critics in his own party and signed a bill to set up a statewide academic testing program to replace the controversial CLAS test that some parents had blasted as invasive of their privacy.

Considered by boosters to be the most significant education-related measure to emerge from the deeply divided Legislature this year, the bill (AB 265) is designed to restore the state’s ability to judge the performance of California’s $27-billion school system while letting parents know how their children are doing.

“What I want to know is how the system is working,” said Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael), the principal author of the bill. “If we are putting money into math or reading or whatever the thing might be . . . I want to know if it bought something.”

Advertisement

State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin praised Wilson for signing the bill, as did Greene and Assemblywoman Dede Alpert (D-Coronado), who helped promote the bill.

“Quality control is understood very well by business, but sadly, some in government do not recognize its importance,” said Eastin. “This assessment system is the key to quality control in public education in California.”

In writing the bill, Greene said he sought to address problems that led to last year’s demise of CLAS, the California Learning Assessment System. Many educators had considered CLAS a cutting-edge tool for assessing students’ skills in solving problems, analyzing literature and writing, but some parents charged that it was inaccurate, that it ignored basic skills and that its open-ended questions invaded students’ privacy.

Last year, Wilson vetoed legislation that would have continued CLAS because he said it “needlessly and offensively violated the privacy of students . . . by intruding into areas of inappropriate inquiry.”

He said the new test “goes a long way” toward creating “objective, world-class performance standards” that measure students’ abilities to master basic skills as well as apply knowledge.

Greene had sought to quiet the concerns over CLAS by prohibiting sensitive questions, giving parents the right to choose not to have their children take the test and by creating a parent-dominated panel to vet proposed test items.

Advertisement

The bill signed by Wilson creates a two-part testing system that will be administered separately by local school districts and the state.

School districts will receive a $5-per-student stipend to administer a standardized test of basic skills, much like those that most school districts already administer. That test will enable parents to monitor the academic prowess of their children against statewide and national averages.

The statewide exam will preserve some of the performance-based aspects of the defunct CLAS exam and will measure students against statewide academic standards, to be approved by the state Board of Education. That part of the bill was controversial because many conservatives question whether such tests, which are supposed to assess whether students can apply the skills they have learned, are accurate.

The local tests are to be given in second through 10th grade. The statewide tests would measure student performance in reading, writing and math in fourth, eighth and 10th grades. History-social studies and science would be assessed statewide in fifth, eighth and 10th grades.

Although the local tests could be given as early as next spring, the statewide test will probably not be ready until 1999 or later.

The bill allocates $6.5 million to develop the state-level test and $15 million for the local incentives. But opponents argue that developing the new test will cost $30 million or more.

Even though Greene had tried hard to avoid the pitfalls of CLAS, the bill became controversial when Republican legislators, urged on by conservative political and parents groups, turned against it on philosophical and procedural grounds.

In his signing message, Wilson said he had been given assurances by Greene that he would sponsor follow-up legislation to address those concerns.

For example, the bill sets up a 21-member standards commission to develop the academic goals on which the statewide portion of the test is to be based. Greene agreed to sponsor a bill to ensure that the commission would finish its work before development of the test.

The follow-up legislation also will give Wilson more power over who sits on that commission, allow more public scrutiny of the actual test items, provide funding for that commission and provide more funding to the state Department of Education to administer the tests.

Wilson had been the target of intense lobbying efforts by supporters as well as detractors of the bill. Those in favor of the bill included most of the mainstream education and business groups, including the California Business Roundtable and state Chamber of Commerce, which said it was needed to guide efforts to improve teaching and learning across the state.

But many conservative Republicans had said the test was a waste of money and was unnecessary because school districts already provide local tests of basic skills.

In his signing statement, Wilson said he gave the bill the go-ahead because of Greene’s assurances and because it would create “reliable, individual student scores,” which CLAS or previous state testing programs had not.

Advertisement