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Valley Interview

CLAS Test Opponent Says His Group Protects Parents' Rights

May 03, 1994|Sharon Moeser | Times Special Correspondent

The California Learning Assessment System test has been hailed by its supporters as a revolutionary method of testing students, providing a way to measure students' critical thinking skills. But the test, given for the first time last year to about a million fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students, has come under increasing criticism, with opponents of the costly test saying it asks students personal questions and fails to measure basic skills.

One of the primary agitators in the controversy that has erupted over CLAS is Gary Kreep. Through his Escondido-based United States Justice Foundation, Kreep, 43, sent letters to each of the more than 1,000 school districts in the state threatening them with lawsuits if they did not seek consent from parents before giving the test to their children. Kreep contends that Education Code Section 60650 makes parental consent necessary because the test asks personal questions.

Although the state Department of Education maintains the 1994 CLAS does not ask personal questions so there is no requirement for consent, the rising opposition to CLAS led William D. Dawson, acting state superintendent of public instruction, to last week notify school districts that they may allow parents to exempt their children from the test.

Even with the department's actions, Kreep is not satisfied. His foundation has filed lawsuits against nearly two dozen school districts. And his threat even led one school district to simply refuse to administer the test, something that will, in turn, probably prompt legal action by the Department of Education.

Kreep was interviewed by Times special correspondent Sharon Moeser.

Question: What is the United States Justice Foundation and what is your connection to it?

Answer: USJF is a conservative, nonprofit, public-interest, legal action group established in 1979. I am executive director and the only staff attorney, although there are about 70 attorneys all over the country who donate some time each year to the foundation.

Q. How is the foundation funded?

A. We have a contributor list of about 73,000 people, just common, everyday people. Our public records show we raised approximately $1 million in 1993.

Q. Before CLAS, what did the foundation do.

A. We litigate issues of public import from a conservative viewpoint, although a lot of things we do are not court cases. A lot of people call, saying, 'my rights have been violated, what are my rights?' We also do public-education-types of projects such as distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance to parents and children all over the country.

Q. How did the foundation get involved in CLAS?

A. We were contacted by parents who were irate over the CLAS test. They had seen copies of the test and they didn't think it was suitable. They thought it was intrusive and depressing and not the kind of thing they wanted their children to be reading. They came to us seeking legal advice on what to do about it. That was last August. There was a statewide task force on education made up of a lot of moms. We were invited to join and started doing some legal research in regards to CLAS and started advising parents of their rights.

At that time there was an attempt being made to work with the state Board of Education to deal with the objectionable materials in the test. Assurances were given by the board, but ultimately those assurances proved to be false. So we started saying we're going to start filing lawsuits. That was early to mid-March. I sent letters to all 1,007 school districts.

Q. What are your specific problems with the test?

A. From a legal point of view, the questions contained on almost every example of the test I've seen violate Education Code 60650. They're asking questions about personal things, about the children's lives. When you're talking about things like death or marriage, you're talking about issues that not only have moral consequences, but religious significance.

Q. The Department of Education has said that many of the items you and other CLAS opponents are calling test questions are in fact not from the test.

A. They've actually said that none of what we're passing around has ever been on a CLAS test. I can tell you that I have seen parts of the 1994 CLAS test, and things from the 1993 test. I'm not going to get too specific, but they can misstate all they want.

Q. The state has worked very hard to keep the tests secret in order to ensure their validity. How are you getting copies?

A. Parents are reporting to us what's on the test because their children tell them. There are some people within the educational establishment so incensed by this that copies are being sent out.

Q. What makes an attorney or a conservative public interest foundation an expert in education?

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