Los Angeles Times

Friday, March 20, 1998

L.A. Unified's Notice About Testing Angers State
By DOUG SMITH, Times Education Writer

After backing off from filing a suit to exclude bilingual students from statewide testing in English, Los Angeles school administrators have aroused the ire of state officials with a letter to parents advising them that they can refuse to have their children tested.
     A spokesman for Gov. Pete Wilson, who pushed for the testing of all students in English for the first time this year, lambasted the letter Thursday as an attempt to circumvent the state's first comprehensive test.
     "I think this memo is clearly in defiance of the regulations passed by the State Board of Education with respect to lobbying parents," said Dan Edwards, educational spokesman for Wilson.
     A spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District said the letter, and translations in every major language spoken by Los Angeles students, has been distributed to schools and will continue to be sent home with children.
     The district sent a similar letter last year without being criticized, said Brad Sales, spokesman for Supt. Ruben Zacarias.
     "We're a little perplexed as to why some of the officials at the state level seem exercised over it this time," Sales said.
     The requirement that every student in the state take the test in English--regardless of whether that is their primary language--has caused rumblings up and down the state, especially in large urban districts with a high percentage of students in bilingual programs.
     School officials contend that testing students in a language they do not read, or read poorly, is degrading and will give a distorted picture of the students' educational performance.
     This week the San Francisco Board of Education voted to defy the state law by not giving the test in English to students who are designated as limited English-speaking and who have been enrolled in the district for less than 30 months.
     State Supt. of Instruction Delaine Eastin has drafted a letter to the district saying the state will take legal action if the district does not rescind the decision, spokesman Doug Stone said.
     The law that established the statewide test explicitly gives parents the right to keep their children out of the test by informing their school in writing, but says "the school district and its employees shall not solicit or encourage any written requests on behalf of any child."
     "It's our attorney's belief that they're very close to the line of advocacy," Stone said.
     At least two other districts--Irvine Unified and San Diego City--have informed parents that they can notify the school not to test their children.
     In addition to the letter, the notification to Los Angeles parents includes a form parents can use to instruct the school not to test their child.
     Edwards said that the "fill-in-the-blanks" attachment clearly crossed the line on soliciting or encouraging.